With the number of cases of molestation on trains and subways in Tokyo projected to ecplise 1000 for a fourth consecutive year, this week Tokyo police are looking to clamp down on subway molesters In Japanese they’re know as chikan (men) and chijo (women). Japanese subway cars are often packed beyond capacity to the point where you cannot move an inch, making it fertile ground for gropers.
In Japan, train groping has been around a long time and is part of the culture. Chikan Densha (Molester Train, 1975) was the first of a series of pink films that now number into the 30′s. The few I’ve seen are softcore light-hearted slapstick comedies but recently there has been a cultural shift. Before, groping was considered a minor offense and the guilty were treated lightly. It is now considered serious problem as evidenced by the award-winning film Soredemo Boku wa Yattenai (I Just Didn’t Do It, 1995).
The unwillingness of victims to speak up has always been the biggest problem that police have had to deal with. According to a study published in 2010, 89% of victims don’t report groping to the police. A few years back, a friend of mine was molested (it was a clear case of molestation, not an accident) on a train. She immediately punched the guy in the face. Then, as he ran off the train to make his escape, she ran him down and with the help of strangers he was caught. The police praised her because victims willing to stand up for themselves are so rare in Japan. The man in this case had been investigated 9 times before for groping which makes you wonder how many times he wasn’t caught. This time though, he had gone far enough with his molestation of my friend that he was charged with the major crime of sexual assault and would serve jail time.
Included in the campaign, that also serves to raise awareness among the general population, is an increased police presence at stations including officers in civilian clothes and volunteers handing out pamphlets urging victims to speak up.