Something that just happens

Apparently groping schoolgirls is a big thing on Tokyo subway trains.

Tamaka Ogawa was about 10 years old when she was sexually assaulted for the first time. It was a public holiday and she was on the subway. A man standing behind her pulled down the band of her culottes and underwear, touched her bare bottom, then pressed himself against her. She recalls feeling shocked and physically sickened. When she reached home, she repeatedly washed the spot where he had pressed himself against her, although she was conscious of not spending too long in the toilet, in case her family noticed that something was wrong.

Apparently she didn’t feel able to tell her family it had happened, which is sad.

A few years later it became a regular thing.

the groping and sexual assaults Рmen would often stick their hands inside her underwear Рbecame a regular occurrence as she made her way to or from school in her uniform. Each time, she would run away, unsure of what to do.

“I thought of myself as a child,” she reflects. “I could not understand that adults were excited by touching me.”

It would be improper to express anger towards an adult, she thought, and she worried about attracting attention. Besides, her parents had never spoken to her about such things and how she ought to handle them.

She recalls one incident particularly clearly. She was about 15 and on her way to school. A man began to touch her, putting his hand inside her underwear. He was aggressive and it hurt, she remembers. When the train stopped, she got off. But he grabbed her hand and told her: “Follow me.” Ogawa ran away. She believes that people saw what was going on, but nobody helped.

How do people – men – manage to give themselves permission to do things like that? Shoving your hand into the underwear of a child on the subway? The very thought of it makes me flinch.

[E]xperts say Japanese society remains willfully oblivious or unaware of how widespread this problem is and how often girls are assaulted.

Hiroko Goto, a feminist, professor of criminal law at Chiba University and vice president of Japan-headquartered NGO Human Rights Now, believes many people do not consider groping to be a crime. “[For] society at large, it’s not a big problem; that’s the kind of double standard [between] the victims’ viewpoint and the social viewpoint.”

In Ogawa’s opinion, society normalises groping as something that just happens.

That’s interesting, given the strong emphasis on politeness and formality in Japanese culture. There are elaborate rules on how to address people, but grown men assaulting girls on the subway is just ho hum, everybody does it.

According to Ogawa, groping-related violations are too often downplayed by society as a “nuisance”. It was only when she started writing about these crimes, she says, that she discovered that what she had experienced was sexual assault. “What was shocking me the most is that I didn’t realise that I was experiencing indecent assault,” Ogawa says.

Japanese society focuses on telling women to be careful, how to dress and to travel in women-only carriages –¬†which are mainly available during peak hours on weekday mornings – Ogawa says. “They are telling women to protect themselves, to be careful, but no one tells the men not to do it,” she says.

Even the rail authorities’ anti-groping posters are too cute and miss the point, Ogawa argues.

Yeah cuteness isn’t the right response.

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