Mind the (Commuting) Gap and the City

And The City | Prima Abdullah

Listen to the related podcast: Mind the (Commuting) Gap and the City by And the City.

In 1994, Tokyo was already a city with one of the lowest crime rates. With only 60 crimes per 100,000 people, it had earned a reputation as one of the safest cities. Unfortunately, not everyone experiences the same sense of safety: at least 70% of women commuters have experienced harassment. A women’s group in Osaka, Japan’s second-largest city, says three-quarters of women in their 20s and 30s who responded to a questionnaire reported encountering a groper— or chikan in Japanese, at least once.[1]

There are reasons why this is quite prevalent in Japan. First, there is a relaxed attitude toward gropers. Both society and institutions consider the harassment as a low-level misdemeanor. Some incident reports mention that surrounding passengers were aware of the harassment happening, however they chose not to get involved. In other situations, reporting the incident to the police will not bear any fruit. Police reporting, in addition to sometimes being complicated – taking hours and with no female officers present while reporting – is also not always considered serious. In one case, the victim was told to reconsider pressing charges because the perpetrator was still a minor, with perhaps a bright future ahead.[2] This unfriendly system can only deter reports; hence, only some 10% of victims file a report.[3]

Furthermore, institutionalized misogynism allowed a self-confessed groper to publish a book. The book titled Gropers Diary sold out its first print of 40,000 copies and was on its way to a second print before a women’s group put pressure on the publisher to cancel. The glorified sex offender, however, was free to roam the streets of Tokyo.[4]

Another reason for continued prevalence is that groping is still considered minor harassment. This was as inaccurate in the past as it is now. Groping does not only include over the clothes touching, but also finger thrusting in the nether region.[5] And the victims are not only women from 20 to 30 years old, but as young as 13.[6] What has been considered as only harassment should be considered sexual assault.

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[1] Yamaguchi, Mari. “Japanese Women Run a Gauntlet of Molesters on Commuter Trains: Harassment. Few men are caught because many victims simply flee. One survey found that three-quarters of women in their 20s and 30s had encountered a groper. New book by a groper is selling well.” 23 October 1994. LA Times. https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1994-10-23-mn-53796-story.html
[2] “After telling her story, Jenna says police recommended that she not press charges because her alleged assailant was apparently still a minor. Undeterred, Jenna said she still wanted to press charges.” - Thompson, Nevin. “What happens when women report sexual assault in Japan?” 16 August 2018 Medium https://medium.com/adinkra/what-happens-when-women-report-sexual-assault-in-japan-19acd5d00b68
[3] Brasor, Phillip. “Japan struggles to overcome its groping problem” 17 Merch 2018. Japan Times https://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2018/03/17/national/media-national/japan-struggles-overcome-groping-problem/
[4] Parry, RL. “The Tokyo commuter who groped his way to celebrity” 05 April 1997. The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/the-tokyo-commuter-who-groped-his-way-to-celebrity-1265562.html
[5] Wudunn, Sheryl. “On Tokyo’s Packed Trains, Molesters Are Brazen” 17 December 1995. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1995/12/17/world/on-tokyo-s-packed-trains-molesters-are-brazen.html
[6] Dayman, Lucy. “Groped, Scared, Disgusted: Stories Of Dealing With Chikan In Japan” 28 May 2018. savvytokyo. https://savvytokyo.com/groped-scared-disgusted-women-share-stories-of-dealing-with-chikan-in-japan/
[7] Parry, RL. “The Tokyo commuter who groped his way to celebrity” 05 April 1997. The Independent. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/the-tokyo-commuter-who-groped-his-way-to-celebrity-1265562.html
[8] --,“Japan Crime Rate & Statistics 1990-2021.” Macrotrends. https://www.macrotrends.net/countries/JPN/japan/crime-rate-statistics
[9] --,”Gun Crimes in Japan Remain Rare.” 19 April 2018. https://www.nippon.com/en/features/h00178/
[10] James, Lauren. “Six ways Japanese women can deter gropers on trains and sexual harassment, from stickers to stamps” 2 September 2019. South China Morning Posthttps://www.scmp.com/lifestyle/travel-leisure/article/3025325/six-ways-japanese-women-can-deter-gropers-trains-and
[11] Aizawa, Yuko. “Lifting the lid on Japan’s harassment problem.” 30 Jan 2019. NHK-Japan. https://www3.nhk.or.jp/nhkworld/en/news/backstories/361/
[12] Yahnke, Katie. “Sexual Harassment Statistics: The Numbers Behind the Problem”. 16 April 2018. I-sight. https://i-sight.com/resources/sexual-harassment-statistics-the-numbers-behind-the-problem/
[13]Alam, Muneeza Mehmood. “Women in transport: Safety and personal security” p.24-25. ITF (2018), Women’s Safety and Security: A Public Transport Priority, OECD Publishing, Paris.
[14] Han Sang-hee. “1 out of 4 women experience harassment during commute” 26 Jan 2011. The Korea Times. http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2011/01/117_80409.html
[15]Shah, S. and Bortolon, L., 2021. Creating gendered mobility plans to enable safe and secure transport: Challenges and ways forward for India and Brazil. In: Women’s Safety and Security: A Public Transport Priority. Paris: OECD Publishing, pp.25-26.
[16] Interview with Eve Ensler in democracynow.org. “One Billion Rising: Playwright Eve Ensler Organizes Global Day of Dance Against Sexual Abuse” 14 February 2013. Democracy Now https://www.democracynow.org/2013/2/14/one_billion_rising_playwright_eve_ensler#transcript
[17] Office for National Statistic. 4 September 2019. https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/earningsandworkinghours/articles/thecommutinggapwomenaremorelikelythanmentoleavetheirjoboveralongcommute/2019-09-04
[18] Carpenter, Julia.“The hidden costs of commuting while female” 27 September 2018 CNN Bussiness. https://edition.cnn.com/2018/11/27/success/women-commuting-gap/index.html
[19] Shibata, Seiji. “Are women-only cars (WOC) a solution to groping? A survey among college students in Tokyo/Kanagawa, Japan” 19 January 2020. T and F online https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01924036.2020.1719533
[20] Natarajan, Mangai. Rapid assessment of “eve teasing” (sexual harassment) of young women during the commute to college In India. Crime Sci (2016)
[21] Cornwall, Gail. “How Lack Of Access To Transportation Segregates Schools” 1 May 2018 Forbes https://www.forbes.com/sites/gailcornwall/2018/05/01/why-tech-is-prepping-to-overhaul-school-transportation
[22] Wills, Kate. “Which city is the worst for sexual harassment on public transport?” 8 Oct 1029. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/cities/2019/oct/08/which-city-is-the-worst-for-sexual-harassment-on-public-transport
[23] News Desk."MRT Jakarta to designate women-only cars during peak hours". 13 March 2013 thejakartapost.com https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2019/03/13/mrt-jakarta-to-designate-women-only-cars-during-peak-hours.html
[24] Shibata, Seiji. “Are women-only cars (WOC) a solution to groping? A survey among college students in Tokyo/Kanagawa, Japan” 19 January 2020. T and F online https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01924036.2020.1719533
[25]Plan International Expert Survey: Girls’ Safety in Cities Across the World. 2018. https://plan-international.org/publications/expert-survey-girls-safety-cities
[26] McCurry, Justin. “Japan is a 'democracy without women', says ruling party MP” 23 September 2020 The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/sep/23/japan-is-a-democracy-without-women-says-ruling-party-mp
[27] Wakatsuki, Yoko. Jozuka, Emiko. “Japan has so few women politicians that when even one is gaffe-prone, it's damaging”22 October 2020. CNN https://edition.cnn.com/2020/10/21/asia/japan-women-politics-hnk-dst-intl/index.html
[28] Fernandez, Elisa, et al. “From "City of Peace" to Safe Cities for Women and Girls” 8 March 2019. UN Women. https://asiapacific.unwomen.org/en/news-and-events/stories/2019/03/city-of-peace