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Published:October 26th, 2009 11:11 EST
Japanese Train Molesters: A Police Crackdown?

Japanese Train Molesters: A Police Crackdown?

By Geoff Dean

Japan has a problem with molestation, especially in crowded commuter trains. I daresay no one is denying that. As a father of two daughters, one age 14 and a frequent train passenger, it is not something I take lightly. Nor, on the surface, do the police.

 There have been various initiatives taken by railway companies to deal with the problem of on train groping, such as establishing "women only" train carriages and having plain clothes police officers ride some of the trains. Still, "groping" is a well established social phenomenon in Japan.

 A few years back, a book was released by a serial molester, titiled "Diary of a Groper". It delineated his "adventures" of groping various women on trains all over Japan and their varying reactions. The book became a best seller and spawned a series of movies, based on the incidents of the book, acted out by a "team" of gropers. While most people I meet decry groping, of course, I often hear comments such as "women exaggerate things", "it`s just a tired out businessman letting off some steam", "the trains are so crowded, what do you expect?" and even, "look at how women dress these days!" What is even more disturbing to me is that these kinds of comments are just as likely from women as men, in my experience.

 Therefore, on first glance, I was pleased with the proposal by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Agency along with several suburban prefectural police organizations to install surveillance cameras in commuter trains. Surveillance cameras are the latest fad among the Japanese police (see my previous contribution, "Big Brother Comes to Small Town Japan", if you want more details or are just a glutton for punishment) and they now proposed this approach to "crackdown" on gropers.

 I would have walked away with a smile if I hadn`t read the small print. Pushing aside the cost and privacy issues, a police official who commented to the Kyodo news service admitted that cameras on the ceiling of trains would be unlikely to catch the gropers` hand movements which tend to be "below the waist". Still, he said they would be a deterrent and could be used to determine who was standing where during an "alleged groping incident."

 My first reaction was that if gropers were aware that the cameras were unlikely to record their molestation, it would not be much of a deterrent. More likely than not, it was just another case of the police doing something, ineffective though it might be, so no one could say that the police were not doing anything. They were trying their best. What more could we ask of them?

 On second thought, I became much more cynical. The aforementioned officer ended his comments with reference to a recent case where groping charges were thrown out by the Supreme Court of Japan against a college professor who was accused of groping by a "high school girl". Since in most cases, it is the accuser`s word against the alleged victim`s, the cameras could provide evidence to protect innocent people accused of groping, in the officer`s view.

 It is undeniable that in a packed commuter train, men and women often rub up against each other. I have, involuntarily, touched women on occasion or been pressed into them by the crowded conditions. That said, groping does occur. I don`t know if the professor was guilty or not, of course, but the implication of the police plan is that there are lot of young girls out there falsely accusing men of groping, ruining their careers and lives, and getting away with it. The surveillance camera can be used, it seems, not so much to protect the victimized women but to protect men from groping accusations.

 You see, most of those accused of groping are middle aged men. So are most police officers and judges. Most alleged victims are young (college, high school, or younger) girls. Not too many police officers and judges fall into these categories. Not surprisingly, many judges and police officers see this as less of an epidemic of groping by men as an epidemic of hysteria by young girls.

 There may in fact be cases where men are falsely accused of groping but considering the abuse the victim must face in the media and the court system, I doubt there are too many women who make the whole thing up. Instead of seeking ways to exonerate the perpetrators, the police should be seeking ways to protect women. Until they do, cameras or not, the trains will remain a dangerous place for women.

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