PARIS   -   French police have handed out almost 450 fines for sexual harassment in the street or on public transport since a new legislation came into effect eight months ago.

The law covers sexist insults, degrading or humiliating comments, or hostile and offensive “sexual or sexist” behaviour towards a person in a public place.

It came into effect in August; a month later the first fine was issued to a man who slapped a woman’s buttocks on a bus and made lewd comments.

France’s equality minister, Marlène Schiappa, said the 447 fines demonstrated that the law against street harassment, which she had earlier described as a “culture battle”, was working.

“Many of you on these benches told us it would never work, that we would not be able to define offensive sexist behaviour,” Schaippa told fellow ministers in the Assemblée nationale. But the figures showed the government action was efficient and would “grow in its power”, she sad.

“With this law, France has become the first country in the world to punish harassment in the streets with fines.”

The law allows for on-the-spot fines of between €90 (£78) and €750, a measure designed to avoid victims having to go through a lengthy, formal complaints process.

The legislation was backed by 90% of the French public, according to an Ifop poll published a year ago. A 2016 study by a national association of transport users in France found 83% of women said they had been subjected to catcalling or intimidating comments about their appearance while using public transport.

Under the law, higher fines can be issued in “aggravating circumstances”, including harassment of passengers using public transport and if the victim is under 15 or is considered particularly vulnerable.

The law came into effect after a video of a woman being attacked outside a Paris cafe went viral last summer. A court later sentenced the attacker, named only as Firas M, to six months in prison and find him €2,000 for aggravated violence after he hurled an ashtray at 22-year-old student Marie Laguerre, then returned to punch her in the face after she remonstrated with him.