Despite the fact Japan has a relatively low crime rate, the nation’s women have long faced the problem of sexual harassment and groping in crowded peak hour trains.
Around the year 2000, Japan introduced women-only carriages on trains, and while it has never been illegal for men to ride in these cars, they are simply asked not to use them during peak hours.
The system relies on the good will of passengers to do the right thing, so that female passengers can be safe from groping – known as ‘chikan’ – on their journeys to and from works.
Many railway lines have also installed CCTV cameras and reports suggest that as a result of this security measure, the number of incidences sexual touching have decreased, but certainly have not completely disappeared.
Sexual assault epidemic
Japanese research suggests that less than 10 percent of victims on trains report the incidents.
The reasons for the low rates of reporting are various, but often have to do with the fear of not being believed or even of arriving late to work, in a country where punctuality and a strong work ethic is paramount.
Indeed up until 2017 when the country’s sex laws were changed, complainants were required to formerly press charges for an alleged attacker to be arrested – unlike in Australia, this could not occur independently by police.
According to Tokyo’s metropolitan police department, 1,750 cases of groping or molestation were reported in 2017.
Thirty percent of these occurred in peak hour, with more than 50% of sexual harassment cases occurring on trains, and a further 20% in train stations.
Some reports suggest that more than 75% of all Japanese women have been groped.
New deterrent device
But in the past few weeks, a stationery company in Japan launched a limited trial of an ‘anti-groping’ device which sold out within an hour of being launched.
The device is a stamp, on a retractable cord, about the size of a lipstick – small enough to be carried in a pocket or a purse. The stamp is invisible to the eye, and can only be seen by a ‘black light’ which is built into the device itself. It enables complainants to mark their assailants, who can later be identified as a result.
The stamp, which retails for 2,700 yen (or about $38 Australian dollars), has been described as a ‘small step’ towards tacking this pervasive problem in Japan.
Other initiatives include a smartphone app which was developed by Japanese police and downloaded about 250,000 times.
The app allows women to activate a voice shouting “Stop it!” at ear-piercing volume levels, or bring up a full-screen message reading, “There is a molester. Please help”, which they can show to other passengers.
However, drawing attention to perpetrators has backfired in the past, resulting in horrendous experiences for the women involved.
In one case which made headlines in 1988, a woman saw a man groping a girl and told him to stop, which angered the man intensified his attack. The alleged perpetrator and another man dragged the girl off the train, took her to a construction site and sexually assaulted her. No one stopped them.
According to psychologists, this type of conduct is more about power and domination than it is about sexual gratification.
A global problem
While being sexually harassed, intimidated and violated on public transport is a problem for women the world over, it is particularly widespread in Japan, especially on packed rush-hour trains when perpetrators rely on crowds to cover their actions, and to protect their identity.
Underground groups of chikan are said to trade advice and tips on the internet about the best times and places to partake in the conduct, and get away with it.
Despite the fact offenders are often difficult to identify, if caught and prosecuted, they face up to six months in prison or fines of up to 500,000 yen (£3,600).
The potential sentence rises to 10 years if violence or threats are involved. And it seems that an invisible ink stamp could be a simple idea that goes some way towards identifying those involved.
‘Groping’ in New South Wales
The offence of indecent assault was replaced by the offence of ‘sexual touching’, in December last year.
It is contained in section 61KC of the Crimes Act 1900, which states that, “a person is guilty of sexual touching if he or she, without the consent of the alleged victim and knowing there is no consent, intentionally:
- sexually touches the alleged victim, or
- incites the alleged victim to sexually touch the alleged offender, or
- incites a third person to sexually touch the alleged victim, or
- incites the alleged victim to sexually touch a third person.”
Sexual touching carries a maximum penalty of 5 years imprisonment. The penalties are more severe if the victim is a child.
‘Sexual touching’ is defined as touching another person with any part of the body or with anything else, or through anything, including anything worn by either person, in circumstances where a reasonable person would consider it to be sexual.