Chikan: men who grope women in public in Japan. Also refers to the act itself.
An illustrator who posted a cartoon claiming to show the difference between those who easily attract sexual harassment or assault and those who don’t has, as you might expect, sparked a heated debate in online and offline communities. Critics assert that focusing on a woman’s appearance and clothing amount to blaming the victim, not the attacker. The artist on the other hand says the work is based on statistical evidence. But no matter which side of the debate you stand, the illustration itself is worth a second look…
Japan’s problem with chikan is widespread. In surveys conducted by train companies, as many as 70 percent of young women say they have been groped, mostly on commuter trains. Some train lines have introduced women-only cars at busy times to counteract this, and there are poster campaigns in stations proclaiming, “Chikan is a crime” and “Beware of chikan“. The positioning of these two statements is worthy of attention. The first warns men not to commit crime. The second statement warns people (usually women, although men and children are victims too) not to become a target of crime.
So how does the illustration that’s doing the rounds on Twitter fit into this?
Let’s take a look at the artist’s description of the image first: “The difference between people who attract ‘chikan’ easily and people who don’t. According to statistics, this is how it is”, writes the artist, who goes by Twitter username @Nakashima273.
Now, look at this picture and see what you think.
▼ Who’s who?
Ready for the answer?
From left to right, the scale shows “easy targets” to “difficult targets”.
Those most at risk from chikan, the notes below the image tell us, are school students in uniform, and meek-looking women in demure clothing. Women who wear loud clothing, or who look tall or powerful, are less likely to be attacked.
The suggestion that a woman in modest clothing is more likely to be groped in public than someone who is “provocatively” dressed might fly in the face of what many people believe – that showing your body, like the woman on the far right is, means a woman is somehow “asking for it”.
In a follow-up tweet, the artist linked to a Japanese blog post which states:
“Suspects in sex crime cases were asked why they chose that person [to attack]. Fewer than 5 percent said they targeted someone because they were wearing provocative clothing. In rape cases, the most common reason given was ‘they seemed like they wouldn’t report it to the police’ (45%). In indecent assault cases, the most common reason was ‘they seemed meek; I didn’t think they’d be able to stop me’ (48%).”
“Ayako Uchiyama, who led the research, said ‘It’s often thought that [women] who wear provocative clothing will be targets [for sex crimes], but that’s not the case.'”
Although these particular statistics seem to have been reblogged for many years (e.g. here and here), the source link is always the same one, which is now dead. With its “meek women are easy targets” heading, the reblogged paragraphs could be internet scaremongering. It’s hard to tell.
But the debate Nakashima’s image has merited is real enough. Many Japanese netizens were appalled at the age of the kids in the picture:
“I can’t believe even elementary school students get attacked by chikan. What is the world coming to.”
“Elementary school students are the easiest target?! That’s a different crime altogether, isn’t it?”
Others paid attention to the woman on the far right:
“Of course no one’s going to hassle a girl that looks as terrifying as that.”
“Sunglasses. Sunglasses are the best counter-measure.”
▼Do these glasses come with anti-pervert coating?
More commenters shared their own experiences:
“When I started high school, I stopped being a target for chikan. I started wearing makeup and the attention stopped completely.”
“Funny how I know loads of women who say they’ve been groped on the train, but never met a man who says he’s molested anyone.”
The illustrator is protesting against the notion that women who wear revealing clothing are more likely to be assaulted – or somehow to blame if they are attacked. But some commenters disagreed with the way the artist made this point:
“Talking about people who attract chikan easily is looking at it the wrong way. It’s like saying the victim is in the wrong.”
Another commenter added, “Chikan aren’t just a threat to women, they’re a menace to society as a whole”.
This “we’re all in this together” mentality is echoed in another kind of anti-chikan poster you can see in train stations in Japan now. In this short manga-style story, a young woman yells “Chikan!” Two other passengers are seen reacting: “Did she say chikan?” “That’s a crime!” A member of the train crew asks, “What happened?” as he comes to help. The text underneath encourages people who see sexual harrassment or assault happening to speak out: “With everyone’s courage and voice, we can eliminate chikan“.
Japan’s chikan problem won’t be solved easily. But half the battle is getting people to talk about it.