For the longest time, the phenomenon called “chikan”, or groping, has been acceptable in most of Japan, especially in public transportation.
Now, the gut-wrenching cultural norm may see its long-sought end thanks to courageous girls and women who have started speaking out about their grim experiences.
Tamaka Ogawa, 36, shared her story to Al Jazeera. She was first assaulted at the age of 10 while riding on a subway. She recalled a man pulling her culottes and underwear down before pressing himself against her bare bottom.
In another incident, a man placed his hand inside her underwear and touched her aggressively. The offender grabbed her when she tried to get off at a stop, but thankfully, she escaped.
Ogawa suffered more sexual assaults, but at the time, she simply couldn’t speak up. She thought it was improper to get mad at adults and did not want to cause a stir.
Now, Ogawa writes for Press Labo, a digital content company she co-founded. There, she tackles issues on gender inequality and sexual violence.
Thankfully, help is within reach for other girls currently on Ogawa’s shoes. In 2015, Yayoi Matsunaga established an organization called Groping Prevention Activities Center in Osaka.
Matsunaga helps spread awareness through anti-groping badges, the crowdfunding of which kicked off in November 2015. She successfully raised $19,000 and called for the best designs through a crowdsourcing contest.
Matsunaga now sells the badges online for $3.70 each. Apparently, a 2016 survey found that they are actually working — 61.4% of 70 students said nobody touched them after using the badges. Only 4.3% cited no changes.
“Chikan” appears to have a long history influenced by multiple factors, one of which includes Japan’s highly patriarchal society and the confusion over its umbrella of sexually-related crimes. But at the end of the day, what appears to sustain the disgusting phenomenon is society’s oblivious stance, which only discourages victims further from opening up.
Ogawa explained, “The reason they can’t say [anything] is because they’re ashamed. And sometimes, if they talk about it, some people think they are just bragging: I’ve been groped.”
Unfortunately, victims are told that it’s their fault, and worse, that “it happens to everyone” anyway, Ogawa said.
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