TV & Radio
December 22, 2005
Rail 'groper' chased to his death
From Leo Lewis in Tokyo
A COMMUTER who allegedly groped a college girl on a crowded train collapsed and died after being chased along a platform by fellow passengers.
The 40-year-old office worker fled the train when it pulled into a station after the student screamed and accused him of groping her bottom and legs.
Four male passengers, including two off-duty policemen, gave chase, bringing him to the ground as he tried to escape. He died later in hospital from a heart attack.
The incident took place on the morning rush-hour express on the Hanwa Line to central Osaka — a spectacularly crowded commuter route that has become one of the most notorious hunting grounds of Japan’s reviled chikan, or railway gropers.
As the packed carriage pulled into Tennoji station, the student is said to have shrieked loudly, grabbed her alleged chikan by the shoulder and told fellow passengers what had happened. Instead of ignoring her plight, as Japanese commuters routinely do, fellow passengers decided to take the law into their own hands.
The incident has highlighted the widespread problem of groping on trains in Japan. But the ferocity of the other passengers’ reaction has also sounded alarm bells. Male Japanese commuters appear to have been stirred to a new mood of chivalry by a hugely popular TV drama, in which a woman falls in love with the man who rescued her from a drunken chikan. Until yesterday that mood had not translated into vigilante-style incidents.
For decades chikan have been the scourge of women commuters and police have been forced to concede that recent drives to stamp out the molesters’ activities have only increased their numbers.
A year ago an anti-bottom-pinching campaign by the Government was declared a disaster after a poll taken at its conclusion showed that two thirds of young women have been groped on trains at some time.
Even the measure of introducing women-only carriages on many of the most overloaded commuter lines has not significantly affected the figures.
The official number of gropers is at a record high, with 2,201 reports on the Tokyo underground alone last year and a worrying rise in the proportion of younger victims.
The figure represents a tripling of incidents since 1996 but police sources said that the number of attacks remains masked because many women are too ashamed to speak up, or satisfy themselves by simply slapping their assailant across the face and walking off.
Over the past few years the blight has taken on an even more sinister aspect as chikan across the country have used the internet to organise themselves into efficient “gropers’ guilds”. Chikan exchange tips on the best times and commuter lines to target, and even run interference for each other so that guild members can undertake a particularly brazen attack.
The Hanwa Line is a favourite for gropers because it is so crowded at peak times that it is nearly impossible for a victim to work out exactly whose hands are responsible.
Blameless male passengers often clasp their books or magazines with both hands to assert their innocence.
Japan has been slow to deal with the problem of sex crime and the response to chikan offenders has been sluggish.
In 2004 the maximum penalty for molestation was raised to seven years’ imprisonment and a fine of about £250. Just a handful of cases have properly tested this.
HANDLING A PROBLEM THAT BEDEVILS WOMEN ON PUBLIC TRANSPORT
The Japanese word for groping, and the people who grope, is chikan. The offenders often feature in Japanese pornography
To combat the problem some trains have women- only carriages called josei senyo sharyo
In a survey last year, 64 per cent of Japanese women in their twenties and thirties said that they had been groped on trains or in stations; 2.5 per cent had reported the incident
Since 1996 the number of reported incidents has tripled. Last year there were 2,201 reports
The penalty for groping was made more severe this year. A repeat offender can now be imprisoned for up to ten years
A Chikan Hyakka (Encyclopedia of Groping) was published in 1995
It is illegal for a Japanese to take a picture without making an audible shutter sound. This legislation is designed to combat the practice of taking photographs up women’s skirts on public transport using mobile phones