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Anti-groping app is surprise hit in Japan

Image credit: Getty Images

A smartphone app in Japan aimed at scaring off molesters has become a smash hit in the country, where women have long run the gauntlet of groping on packed rush-hour trains.

The free smartphone app Digi Police, launched by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police three years ago, has been downloaded more than 237,000 times. According to police official Keiko Toyamine, the download statistics for the anti-groping app have an “unusually high figure” for a public service app.

“Thanks to its popularity, the number is increasing by some 10,000 every month,” Toyamine said, adding that victims are often too scared to call out for help.

However, with the help of the SOS message mode in the Digi Police app, “they can notify other passengers about groping while remaining silent”.

Victims of groping can activate the app, which either blasts out a voice shouting “stop it” at top volume or produces the SOS message which reads: “There is a molester. Please help.”

According to the latest data available from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department, there were around 900 groping and other harassment cases on Tokyo trains and subways reported in 2017.

“But it’s the tip of the iceberg,” Toyamine however added, with many victims often hesitant to come forward.

In Japan, sexual offenders face up to six months in jail or fines of up to 500,000 yen (£3,500), with the potential jail sentence being increased to 10 years if violence or threats are used.

The free Digi Police app was initially aimed to provide information for elderly people, as well as parents and their children, about scams and prowlers. However, the function to “repel molesters” was added a few months after its launch.

Furthermore, an online conversation about the app – caused by a female pop idol being assaulted late in 2018 – resulted in its sudden popularity. Experts also agree that the app could help ‘silent’ victims, according to Akiyoshi Saito, a certified social worker who supported some 800 former molesters during a rehabilitation programme.

“Molesters tend to target those who appear shy and reluctant to lodge a police complaint,” he said.

Groping on trains can occur in any country where trains are frequently crowded, Saito added. “But the idea that men are superior to women, which is Japan’s traditional bias, may help sustain sexual harassment on trains in the country.”

Awareness of the issue has risen in Japan in recent years, with women exchanging tips in online forums on how to avoid the unwanted attention.

East Japan Railway, one of the country’s major railway companies, runs women-only carriages during rush hours and has set up security cameras on some lines notorious for a high rate of groping.

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