Sexual harassment on public transport has become such an issue in Japan that women are having to turn to technology to prevent it.
Groping is an all too common occurrence across the country in the day-to-day lives of women; so much so, in fact, that women-only train carriages were introduced nearly two decades ago to combat the issue.
Yet these carriages didn’t resolve the problem, with thousands of women molested in 2017 in Tokyo alone – hence the introduction of the Digi Police app, which aims to tackle molestation once and for all.
Recently, a video put together by American technology company Vocativ highlighted the ongoing dangers faced by Japanese women each day while drawing attention to the app and its uses.
The shocking footage collated a number of clips showing various different men sexually harassing and assaulting women on public transport, in complete disregard of the women and in full view of other passengers.
Throughout the short one minute video, one man can be seen pushing himself up against a woman whom he has backed into a corner, while another forcibly licks a woman’s face until she falls to the ground.
The horrifying acts don’t stop there though; in one clip, a man is filmed masturbating while looking up a young girl’s skirt, while another visibly assaults a woman as she appears to sleep.
You can watch the disturbing video below:
Tokyo has a huge problem with perverts on public transportation… and the police want women to fight back! pic.twitter.com/O1jM8OUHVW
— Vocativ (@vocativ) June 5, 2019
The Digi Police app, as per The Guardian, was introduced three years ago by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department and enables victims of sexual harassment to notify fellow passengers if they feel threatened at any point.
The app works by providing users of the app with a way to activate a voice which shouts, ‘Stop it!’ at an ear-piercing volume – effectively replacing women’s voices with that of an app, a concept which sits on the wrong side of comfortable.
Alternatively, they can bring up a full-screen message which reads, ‘There is a molester. Please help’ which they can show to other passengers.
Having already been downloaded more than 237,000 times since its introduction in 2016 – an ‘unusually high figure’ for a public service app, according to police – the app is proving popular among women in Japan.
And that number is steadily increasing, with police official Keiko Toyamine stating:
Thanks to its popularity, the number [of downloads] is increasing by about 10,000 every month.
There’s no denying the app has become crucial in Japan’s fight against harassment, but the question that really needs asking is this: Should women really have to turn to technology in order to protect themselves against groping on their daily commute?
Sure, the Digi Police app is a way for women to stop an assault once it’s already happening, scaring the offender away and notifying others, but it’s more important to get to the root of the problem and stop men harassing women in the first place.
The issue of women’s safety being constantly and continually jeopardised needs to be tackled head on, rather than putting the responsibility of preventing or halting assaults on victims. Because that’s exactly what this does.
Rather than telling men their behaviour is intrinsically wrong, it’s being ingrained in women that they need to take responsibility for their safety when doing something as simple as taking a train to work in the morning.
It’s a tale as old as time. Girls are taught to never walk alone in the dark. We’re warned never to get separated from our friends on a night out, to keep an eye on our drinks at all times, and to never go for a jog at night.
This app is simply a modernised version of these warnings: Make sure you download it or else horrible things might happen to you. And if they do? It’s your fault for not having downloaded it in the first place.
UNILAD spoke to Katie Russell, the national spokesperson for Rape Crisis England and Wales, who said apps such as this one are not the solution to tackling sexual harassment.
She added that, although there is ‘nothing intrinsically wrong’ with the app, it ‘doesn’t necessarily tackle the problem’ of sexual harassment as it doesn’t get to the root cause of the issue.
For one, it assumes women are going to react in a particular way in these types of situation, whereas in reality ‘that’s not always a very informed expectation of how people do respond in those scenarios’.
When someone is sexually assaulted or abused or attacked in any way, quite often they respond by freezing, by flopping, they find that they can’t speak.
Someone won’t necessarily be in a position to be able to do whatever is required – be it scream, or say particular words or whatever, to activate a particular product.
Not only that, but apps such as this one ‘put the onus on the victim or the potential victim to protect themselves, to keep themselves safe, or to take action,’ Katie said.
Whilst we really understand that the majority of these products are almost certainly developed from a really good place, a really well intentioned place, our concerns include the fact that these kind of solutions put the onus on the victim.
Whereas actually, what we know is the only people who really have the power to prevent and to end sexual violence, and to stop it happening in the first place, are the perpetrators and potential perpetrators.
The way [the app is] targeted is absolutely towards women and girls, implying that we have a responsibility and that we have the ability to prevent all sexual violence and abuse against us.
The sad truth is we don’t always because of the way perpetrators operate, but also ultimately we really shouldn’t have to. Curbing our freedoms and making us constantly police our behaviours and live in fear isn’t ultimately the long term and desirable solution.
Instead of these precautions, why aren’t we telling boys to look out for girls, to treat them with respect, and to not make them feel uncomfortable and/or threatened on a day-to-basis? That’s where the problem lies, not in the actions of the women.
To truly tackle the issue, Katie stressed the importance of teaching respect and empathy in appropriate ways, which she said ‘is 100 per cent possible from the earliest possible age… in school settings and non-school settings for children and young people’. We must also have a zero tolerance approach for this kind of violence and abuse, she explained.
Yet in Japan, such an education system does not exist. Shino Naito, a vice senior researcher at the Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training who specialises in workplace harassment, explained the situation is so severe because ‘Japan is lacking in awareness of human rights’.
Naito continued, as per The Mainichi:
Other OECD member nations begin raising awareness about human rights during primary education.
Last year, the Japanese government did attempt to encourage men to take responsibility with regards to preventing sexual harassment, distributing posters for this purpose.
Featuring actor Mikihisa Azuma, who asks: ‘Is this sexual harassment too?’, the posters displayed a multitude of offensive comments such as: ‘You’re prettier now that you’ve lost weight,’ and ‘Cute outfit today – that’s my type of look’.
The posters created an uproar online after the Cabinet Office tweeted a copy of the poster, with Twitter users saying it was just a way to make excuses for willful ignorance of the issue.
While one person said, translated to English: ‘I realised once again that this country has no desire to protect women. Shame on the world as a government like this,’ another wrote: ‘Why is a movement to eliminate violence against women, but the main actor is a male actor whose facial expression is as if we are claiming to be a victim?’
As per VICE, a century-old rape law exists in Japan that states a woman has to prove she resisted an assault, or was injured or wounded for an incident to be considered rape.
Although this law was amended in 2017 to include more stringent penalties, limitations such as prosecutors having to prove violence or intimidation was involved during the assault or that the victim was ‘incapable of resistance’ remain in place.
Not only that, but as per The Mainichi, there is nothing that prohibits harassment in Japan and there are no laws establishing criminal punishment concerning harassment.
This means women in Japan struggle to build solid cases, and so most incidents of sexual harassment and assault go unreported. A 2016 survey by the Japan Institute of Labor, as per VICE, found that, while almost 35 per cent of staff had experienced sexual harassment, more than 60 per cent did not report it.
Emma Kowalski, a 27-year-old from Cambridge, chose not to report the harassment she faced to police. Emma visited Japan for two weeks in 2017, and while there was touched inappropriately two times while travelling from Tokyo to Osaka on a train.
The 27-year-old, who works for Xtreme Events, described the experience as ‘scary’ and said she felt ‘disgusting’ after each of the incidents.
Emma told UNILAD how the first time it happened, she could suddenly feel someone ‘very close behind’ her. Although he had his hands to the side, the stranger would make sure they slid to her bum every time the train moved.
Upon realising he was doing this on purpose, Emma walked down the carriage to get away from him until she found a seat.
The second time, a different man came ‘right up behind’ her and tried to touch her bum, but this time, she turned around and gave him a dirty look. This led him to get off at the next stop looking ‘sheepish’.
The 27-year-old explained:
It made me feel disgusting. I am on holiday and want to enjoy myself, I don’t want to constantly feel objectified, like a property they can pick up and touch.
Emma said she isn’t aware if any of her fellow commuters saw what happened, but ‘they didn’t seem to pay too much attention’. She continued: ‘Most people’s eyes were down. Whether that’s because of the incident or just naturally, I have no idea’.
Emma chose not to report these incidents because she was simply visiting the country, and wanted to enjoy her time there without having that disrupted.
At the time I just felt that I was on holiday and I didn’t want to go through the hassle of going to a police station and filing a report while trying to enjoy my holiday.
Taking this into consideration, the true number of people who have been sexually harassed or assaulted is likely to be much higher than the figures we currently have access to.
The fact of the matter is this: While the app is certainly a step in the right direction in signalling the issues of public molestation are at least heard, there’s still a long way to go until women begin to feel safe travelling on their own.
And if women don’t feel safe doing simple things like getting the train to work, or to a friend’s house one evening, no progress is going to be made – regardless of the number of downloads the app has.
Without first tackling the intrinsic issues of sexism and misogyny, sexual harassment will only continue. It’s clear something needs to be done about it, and fast.
If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence contact the Rape Crisis England and Wales helpline on 0808 802 9999 (12-2:30 and 7-9:30). Alternatively you can contact Victim Support on 08 08 16 89 111.
Male Survivors Partnership is available to support adult male survivors of sexual abuse and rape. You can contact the organisation on its website or on its helpline – 0808 800 5005.
A Broadcast Journalism Masters graduate who went on to achieve an NCTJ level 3 Diploma in Journalism, Lucy has done stints at ITV, BBC Inside Out and Key 103. While working as a journalist for UNILAD, Lucy has reported on breaking news stories while also writing features about mental health, cervical screening awareness, and Little Mix (who she is unapologetically obsessed with).