France’s MeToo creator on trial for defaming man she accused

Sandra Muller
Ms Muller called on French women to name their harassers - but is being sued

The woman who started France’s campaign to encourage women to expose their sexual harassers has appeared in court over allegations of defamation.

Sandra Muller is being sued by Eric Brion, who she named when she created the “#balancetonporc” hashtag.

The TV executive says he flirted with Ms Muller inappropriately on a single occasion, but his portrayal as a predator has ruined his career.

He is seeking €50,000 ($55,000, £44,000) in damages.

Mr Brion is also looking for another €15,000 in legal fees and the deletion of the tweet which named him.

The hearing on Wednesday attracted widespread attention in France, where sexual harassment is believed to be commonplace – but which has also seen a backlash to the #balancetonporc” (“rat on your pig”) movement.

‘Heavy-handed flirting’

At the hearing, Mr Brion’s legal team said that while he had apologised for his clumsy or inappropriate flirtation, he had “never admitted to harassing anyone”.

“He said that one evening he tried to flirt with Sandra Muller as he liked her,” his lawyer Marie Burguburu told the court. “This is his right to flirt,” she added.

Ms Muller, who had travelled from the United States, where she is based, to attend the session, said she had “started a movement that spread through all levels of society”.

The journalist said she wanted to see that “sexist insults, whatever they are, are finally taken seriously”.

When she received the court summons in January, she expressed surprise that despite his apology, Mr Brion “changed his strategy and decided, against all decency, to take me to court”.

She vowed she would “fight to the end” and said she hoped the trial would be “an opportunity to hold a real debate on ways to fight against sexual harassment”.

How did they end up in court?

In October 2017, Ms Muller tweeted: “#balancetonporc! You too can recount by giving the name and details of a sexual harassment you have known in your job”.

A few hours later, she followed up with: “You have big breasts. You are my type of woman. I will make you orgasm all night” and Eric Brion’s name and position.

But Mr Brion says he had never worked with Ms Muller in any capacity; that he had apologised for his words, and not pursued it after he was rejected.

The resulting social media campaign behind the hashtag, however, spread Mr Brion’s name far and wide, and in December that year, he wrote a response in French newspaper Le Monde.

He said he had made his “inappropriate remarks” at a cocktail party late in the evening, “but only once” – and said he was not trying to excuse his actions.

But Mr Brion said Ms Muller had implied the two had some sort of working relationship in which harassment took place.

He suggested she had been deliberately vague, in a “conflation of heavy-handed flirting and sexual harassment in the workplace”.

As a result, he said it had become extremely difficult to find work.

Ms Muller’s lawyer Francis Szpiner, however, told the court: “If you do not feel that when a man stands in front of you and makes you such a proposal, it’s offensive, I’m sorry for you, but today a majority of women and men think it is.”

“If this hashtag has been successful it’s because thousands of women have recognized themselves [in it],” he added, in remarks reported by France’s 20 Minutes programme.

Judgement in the case is due in September.


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