The Truth Behind Tokyo Train Groping
Regarding sexual harassment on a global scale, it is inarguable that women are in a more dangerous position than men. The extent and means of harassment may be different considering demographics such as location, age, ethnicity, culture and society. While abroad, it is particularly important to do research into how to avoid potential dangers. For example, while you may not get cat-called in Tokyo, groping is a wide-spread concern.
Where and the Numbers.
Japan is generally considered host to one of the politest and well-mannered cultures. However, this does not mean that women are any less victims to sexual harassment and assault. The most common locations of assault, particularly groping, are on public transportation and at the work place.
The Japanese labor ministry released a 2016 report which found that of approximately 10,000 female workers between the ages of 25 to 44, about one-third stated that they had been sexually harassed at work. Even more disturbing, it is extremely common for middle and high school girls to be sexually assaulted while commuting to and from school, predominantly on trains. The exact number is difficult to pinpoint due to the social pressures preventing girls from speaking out.
Many females who are sexually abused on public transportation are school girls. Japanese society has deemed schoolgirls docile and virginal, which is reinforced in widely read manga. Thus, they are easy targets. To predatory men, girls in school uniforms display the ideal of who should be conquered. While sexual pleasure does have an important role in this, what should also be considered is the simple gratification perpetrators get from controlling and dominating young women.
Groping on public transportation is often attributed to the oversexualizing of school girls. Within the red-light districts of Tokyo, particularly Akihabara and Ikebukuro, “JK cafes” are common. At these locations, young women and teenage girls dress in school uniforms and are paid to serve men.
While many seemingly innocent (but still creepy) services are often listed outside the shops, what is willing to be performed varies on the inside. This can include but is not limited to: serving food, chatting, fortune-telling, “walking dates,” and even sex. Some cafes are designed to look like subway trains where the customers can choose whether they would like to grope a young women dressed as a schoolgirl or as an office worker.
While some find that these types of cafes can deter men from such behavior in public, many disagree. By perpetuating the idea that women are objects to be harassed, men will continue to do so in public.
Similarly, actions such as the sexual abuse of schoolgirls is further endorsed by pornographic manga (comics) which is widely available. Child pornographic photos only became illegal in 2014. However, to illustrate child porn or images that have women being sexually abused is not against the law.
The Public and Private.
Japanese society, both public and private, have long ignored the problematic amount of sexual harassment. Issues lie within both sectors. Largely in prevention, but also in the conducting of investigations after the event.
The Japanese government has placed serious penalties against those convicted of sexual harassment. However, the amount of those convicted is severely low. How Japanese society as a whole treat not the perpetrators, but the victims, is key in the disparity in crime versus those persecuted.
Many young women who are victims of groping do not report the incident due to social pressure to remain silent. The media often focuses not on legitimate cases, but those which are false accusations. In doing so, the public effectively discourages women from coming forward about being violated.
“Women’s Only” train cars do exist on the major subway lines but only during specified times of the day. Also, while the train cars are helpful in allowing for a safe space for women, in reality it does little to discourage groping. Society is effectively telling women to change their schedule as opposed to trying to prevent men from abusing women.
In the private sectors, many families simply do not talk about the dangers of harassment. This not only affects their female children, but also their male children as well. By not directly stating the problem exists, it allows children to believe that being groped, or groping, on the train is something that “happens to everyone.”
Not Just Japanese Women
While victims of groping are usually Japanese women, that is not to say foreigners are not also sexually harassed while in Japan. For example, while I had been cat-called in my home country of America, I had never been sexually harassed physically by a stranger until my time in Tokyo.
While it may seem that this is a direct criticism of Japan, I only mean to disseminate more information about the subjects that foreigners may be unaware of. Abuse of women is a global concern, not something specific to any area of the world. When considering Japan, this is only a snapshot of what women face every day.