It hasn’t been a good week for Japanese feminism. Not only has a middle-school principal announced to his students that girls should focus on babies instead of books, but women are now being told they should avoid getting into elevators with men.
The warning from Osaka Metropolitan Police was prompted by a recent sexual assault that took place in an elevator. But the police tweet met with harsh criticism, with one support organization likening the advice to victim blaming.
The article below was one of the most read articles of the week on Yahoo! Japan. Netizens have responded to the article by saying that the situation is good for neither men nor women, with many highlighting the fact that men may also be at increased risk of being falsely accused of sexual assault. 2ch netizens took an even harder line, telling women to take the stairs instead.
On the whole, this highlights an ongoing issue in Japan which starts with the women-only carriages on trains and permeates most of society. Does the solution really lie in telling women to segregate themselves? Or is it more about educating everyone on the importance of gender equality?
From Yahoo! Japan:
Osaka Metropolitan Police Tweet: “Don’t Be Alone In A Lift With A Man” — But Is That A Sound Crime-Prevention Strategy? We Asked A Support Group…
Osaka Metropolitan Police have called for women to “Try to ride elevators without being left alone in one with a man”.
A woman was recently sexually assaulted in the elevator of an Osaka apartment-block elevator when she was riding alone with a man. Following the incident, police called for women to be cautious on their Twitter account, posting “crime prevention information”. The tweet read “Please try to ride elevators without being left alone in one with a man”. Comments in response to the tweet have called it “unrealistic” and said that it “forces victims to defend themselves”. So how should we think of the situation? We asked an organisation which supports victims of sexual assaults and the Osaka Metropolitan Police.
“Try Not To Be Alone With Men…”
The crime-prevention tweet came from the official account of the Osaka Metropolitan Police Public Safety Division. They transmit information from time to time about sexual assaults, thefts from vehicles, suspicious persons and so on. Of these tweets, it’s the one they posted on March 7 regarding a victim of a sexual assault which has attracted attention.
On March 5, a woman riding an apartment-block elevator in Osaka’s Naniwa ward had her breasts groped by a man in his 30s who got into the elevator behind her. The tweet gave the man’s characteristics, but also called for women not to ride elevators alone with men.
There have been the following opinions in response to the tweet.
“It’s pretty much impossible to use elevators but not be alone in one with a man”.
“Please stop forcing victims to defend themselves. If you’re preventing crime, then try making announcements that deter the perpetrators”.
“Seems like in no time at all there’ll be calls for ‘women-only elevators'”
There were even comments imagining what might happen if a woman had got into an empty elevator but then a man got into an elevator on one of the floors in-between:
“Shall I close the door?”
However, there have been other suggestions from police authorities around Japan, who, like the Osaka Metropolitan Police, have also been calling for women to be aware.
The following advice is given on the official site of the Hiroshima Metropolitan Police, advising women not to get into an elevator with a man they don’t know:
“When waiting for an elevator, if you realize you are alone with a man you don’t know, get him to take the first elevator, and wait for the next one”
“Tell your family what time to expect you home, or contact them on your cellphone and get them to come and meet you in the lobby”
Asking The Sexual Assault Support Group
We asked Hirakawa Kazuko (68), chairperson of the non-profit organization “Sexual Assault Relief Center, Tokyo”, which supports women who have been victims of sexual assault.
“At the center, we do not support women by implying they should defend themselves. For example, we don’t say things like ‘women shouldn’t walk on the streets at night’. Women who have suffered sexual assault often feel that it’s their own fault, they tell us ‘If I’d resisted more maybe I could have prevented it’, and ‘I guess I shouldn’t have been walking at that time at night’. So when women see messages like ‘don’t walk alone at night’, they absolutely think ‘so it was my fault after all’. I feel that this recent Twitter post is along the same lines”.
Still, Hirakawa added “The reality is that most women who have suffered sexual assault would also urge others not to ride in elevators with men”.
Putting aside the debate over whether or not the police were right to post what they did, shouldn’t they be putting at least some effort into avoiding incidents surrounding elevator use, by saying things like “get the next elevator to avoid being alone in an elevator with a man”?
Hirakawa points out that “As an organization this is a difficult point. Because it’s not like all men are these terrifying creatures. Shouldn’t there just be improvements on the whole, like alarms and CCTV in elevators?
The Point Of View Of The Osaka Police
The Public Safety Division of Osaka Metropolitan Police explained as follows about the gist of their tweet.
“Sexual assault is sometimes referred to as ‘murder of the soul’, so for us here at the Osaka Metropolitan Police, we’re exhausting all avenues of investigation, arresting the perpetrators, and also trying to support victims through various crime prevention strategies. The tweet itself was based on a victim report of a sexual assault in an apartment-block elevator, and was intended to make women more aware of these incidents. It was not meant to oblige them to defend themselves in any extreme way. On Twitter, were the number of characters you can use are limited, we were unable to explain ourselves fully, but we were just communicating one way of urging women to act in a way that prevents the crime so that they don’t face similar situations”.
And how about those people who said that it was pretty much impossible to avoid being in an elevator with a man? The police said the following.
“Saying ‘don’t be alone in an elevator with a man’ in the tweet, was meant to warn women to be aware of situations where a man they don’t recognize might try to get into the elevator behind you in your apartment block, and to not get into elevators with them. We only said that as one means of helping to avoid further incidents. Osaka Metropolitan Police will continue to post tweets that suggest ways of preventing crime yourself as part of our crime prevention strategy, to prevent the people of the City facing sexual assault”.
Comments from 2ch.net:
This basically amounts to discrimination against men.
Women should take the stairs.
It would be good for their diets, too. Best thing for all concerned.
Come on, just take the stairs, fatty.
Women shouldn’t even be walking outside.
They’re just a nuisance.
And so we enter into an era where men get reported to the cops just for riding elevators.
Understand: Beautiful women shouldn’t be left alone in a elevator with a man.
Why don’t they just start making elevators like ski lifts, so that only one person goes on at a time?
Fugly women are not human so it wouldn’t even be a crime in that case.
Are there even laws protecting monsters?
I’d be pretty deflated if the minute I got onto an elevator a young woman ran out to escape my clutches.
Theoretically this would mean that couples shouldn’t even get into elevators alone.
Comments from Yahoo! Japan:
It’s only polite that if a woman is in an elevator on her own the man would hesitate and not get in! What times are we living in?
These days, if I’m alone in an elevator with a woman then on the contrary, I’m the one who’s scared.
I mean, if I end up getting falsely accused of sexual assault because she suddenly says I’m a groper, then I’m finished…
You can’t really prove the crime, but you also can’t prove it didn’t happen.
I think it would be a good idea if more and more elevators have CCTV installed.
They should put cameras inside elevators and ensure that the monitors are checked at every floor.
And they should give the elevators glass doors and stuff, like you see in public housing.
There are as many women out there who falsely accuse men of sexual assault and stitch them up as there are woman who get assaulted by men.
So I think it’s better if both men and women are aware of how to prevent these crimes so that they don’t get caught up in them.
These days it’ll end in tears if you don’t look out for yourself.
Isn’t it the men who get assaulted these days?
In an apartment block in my neighborhood a male high-school student got attacked, but actually sometimes it seems that people are just arguing but actually something indecent is happening. Regardless of whether you’re a man or a woman, it’s best to be careful.
Weren’t they in an elevator together because they liked each other!?
I think it’s for the best.
But I don’t think it’s necessary for women to tell men to get out of elevators if the man was in there first.
There are so many crazy incidents these days.
Elevators already have CCTV.