The crime rate in Japan is low, so many think that Japan is safe, and it is. While I can leave my iPhone on the table or my purse on a chair and come back with everything fully intact, there are still some things to watch out for. Despite the low rape statistics of 1.2 per 100,000, many sexual assaults go unreported. As safe as Japan is, as a woman, no matter where you are in the world, you still need to be careful. You can be a victim anywhere.
In the summer of 2014, my youngest just turned 16 years old. We were sightseeing in Kyoto, minding our own business, and pleasantly watching the famous Gion Festival Parade. The temperature was in the high 90s and we were dressed for the weather—my sister in a t-shirt and shorts, myself in a strappy sundress. For the temperature being as hot as it was, there was an old man about a foot shorter than I standing too close to me and my sister. He kept trying to get closer to my sister. Why he wanted to move so close to her, I didn’t know, and I could only imagine the sickening reason why. My only mission was I wasn’t going to let him lay a finger on her. Goosebumps began to rise on my skin as I felt his disgusting breath on my back.
Every time we moved away, he inched closer still. My heart was pounding. I was so worried he was trying to steal something from my bag, I put my bag and my sister in front of me. Damn him to hell if he would touch my sister on my watch. I felt better having her back close to my body and despite the soaring temperatures, I felt ice cold. Protecting her gave me a bit of courage. If he grabbed me, I’m a bit older and I can deal with something happening to me. I would never be able to forgive myself if something were to happen to her. While this incident was happening, all the Japanese were moving away from us, giving this creep more room to get closer.
I couldn’t take it anymore. I put my elbows out behind me and whispered to my sister in Spanish to go over the guardrail. After helping her over, I turned around to see he had disappeared and a female police officer coming toward us. To this day, I’m grateful he never touched us, but what happened was too close of a call for comfort.
That day, I made a mistake not standing up for myself. I should have looked the pervert in the eye and told him to bugger off. This was a horrible situation, and I’m glad I learned from it. Since then, I have never made the same mistake again. If I notice someone trying to creep on me, I will stare at them and make sure they know I’ve seen them (I’m also not afraid to hit someone).
Living on Okinawa, I encounter horrible debauchery every time I go out to the club. Japanese guys aren’t the only ones capable of acting like animals. American military men are far worse. This isn’t to say all of them act like monsters when they’re drunk, but the majority of them (from what I’ve seen) do. If you ever go to Okinawa, stay out of Fantasy Space. Nothing good ever happens there. I constantly encountered drunk military men who are very aggressive and pushy. The grab Japanese and foreign women alike with no repercussions for their actions. They take Japanese girls from their friends to dance when they feel like it and these frightened girls never know how to deal with a pushy and drunk military guy. It’s disgusting.
It was then that I learned a valuable lesson. You have to look out for number one at all times. If you’re an expat woman or on holiday in a foreign country, this makes you an easier target. Most countries that host foreign nationals don’t care about what happens to their guests. You have to protect yourself if you’re a woman because no one is going to stand up for you. I repeat, no one.
I know these points have been repeated countless times, but it’s never a bad thing to read them again and reinforce them.
If you’re in the club, tell the bouncer. The thought may not cross you or maybe you think it’s acceptable in a club. Newsflash. Groping behaviors are never okay. The bouncers are there to protect the clientèle. If they don’t, it’s a sketchy place and you should stay out of there.
If you punch the creep or hurt them, you’re only doing a favor to yourself and other women. If local authorities do present themselves, you will not get in trouble for defending yourself. Sexual harassment is becoming a more “serious” offense in Japan. If you’re afraid of the cops, don’t be. What is the pervert going to say? She hit me for touching her butt? Sexual harassment is a serious accusation.
Make a scene
If you’re in a public place, chances are, attracting attention to yourself will warrant the cops or attention from bystanders. Creeps don’t want an audience so the more ruckus you cause, the better.
Use the buddy system. The easiest targets are women who look meek and alone. It’s sad that in today’s world women can’t go out alone in peace. I notice when I’m in a group friends, the chances of groping are lower.
Don’t blame yourself
Many days, the conversation always starts, “What was she wearing?” What you wear shouldn’t be the issue. Even the most moderately dressed women get groped on trains in Tokyo daily. It’s not your fault there are chauvinistic losers dwelling in society’s dark pits and you have to put up with it. You have the right to feel safe.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted there is help. There’s a support group called Sexual Assault Support and Help For Americans Abroad (SASHAA). This organization is not only dedicated to helping Americans but other expatriate women. They provide advice and support the embassies do not. They let you know what your rights are in each country and what you can do should you want to pursue justice.
For more on sexual harassment in Japan, please read, “On Sexual Harassment Part 1” by This Japanese Life. The author highlights Japan’s progression of sexual harassment cases and what Japan is doing now. Also, check out sexual harassment and how it is handled in the ALT community, “Sexual Harrassment and ALTs“. Do any of you have stories you’d like to share? Any tips? Any legal advice? Speak up, sisters!