In 2001, Japan introduced female-only carriages on its train network to curb rates of sexual assault. While this measure helped, the problem certainly hasn’t gone away, as highlighted in a recent report by the Guardian which tallied almost 900 cases of harassment on trains and subways in 2017. In reality, the problem is likely even worse than that, as many women don’t report harassment to police.
Most recently, the popularity of an anti-harassment app called Digi Police has again highlighted the scale of Japan’s problem. When triggered, the app loudly plays the words “stop it” through a phone's speakers, or alternatively displays a message users can show to the people around them. Usually this reads: “there is a molester. Please help.” The app can also send an automated SOS email to a preset email address; a feature children can use to contact their parents for help.
Since its release three years ago, the app has been downloaded over 237,000 times. Police official Keiko Toyamine told the Guardian that for a public service app designed by police, Digi Police has received an “unusually high figure” of downloads and that tally “is increasing by about 10,000 every month.”
Keiko explains the app is so successful because it allows victims to alert other passengers without having to speak up for themselves, which is often a step many are unwilling to take.
Mayako Shibata, 23, a daily commuter who has previously reported harassment on Japan’s train system told the South China Morning Post that “anything the police or train operators can do to stop women being targeted like this has to be worth a try.
"It’s bad enough for a grown woman to have to put up with the possibility of being molested when they get on a train," she said, "but I really worry about high school girls, for example, who are far less likely to speak out.”
This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.