Japan train commuters buy ‘groper insurance’ to defend against sexual assault claims

The issue of women being molested on trains has long been a problem in Japan

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 30 May, 2017, 2:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 30 May, 2017, 10:09pm

Commuters in Japan are snapping up an insurance policy that promises to provide them with immediate legal advice if they are falsely accused of groping another passenger aboard one of the nation’s notoriously crowded trains.

An official from Japan Small Amount and Short Term Insurance company said the policy was introduced in September 2015 and initially had “not many” inquiries, but that had changed in recent months.

The issue of women being molested on trains has long been a problem in Japan, despite a number of campaigns by train operators and police to combat the problem. In parallel, however, has been the plight of men mistakenly accused of touching a woman.

About 1,800 arrests are made each year under public nuisance ordinances, but in a landmark case in 2006 a professor at the National Defence Medical College appealed his conviction all the way to the Supreme Court and had his conviction - and 22-month prison sentence - overturned.

The man’s initial conviction had been based solely on the testimony of the alleged victim, but the court ruled that there was a high possibility that she had made a mistake aboard the packed train.

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Two years later, the movie I Just Didn’t Do It was put forward as Japan’s official entry in the foreign language category for the Academy Awards and portrayed the legal fight of a young man wrongly accused of molesting a girl on a train.

The film touched a nerve, earning Y1.1 billion (HK$77.3 million) at the box office and remaining in the top 10 at the cinema for six weeks.

Shoji Sugimoto, president of the Japan Small Amount and Short Term Insurance company told the Mainichi newspaper that he was inspired to create the policy - which costs Y6,400 (HK$450) a year - after seeing the film.

Under the terms of the policy, anyone accused of misconduct on a train can contact the insurance company, which will then issue an instant alert to its nearest affiliate to dispatch a lawyer to the site of the incident. The lawyer’s fee for the following 48 hours is covered by the insurance.

Anyone arrested for a crime can be detained for up to 23 days before charges need to be brought, while access to a legal representative is often limited. If a prosecutor goes ahead with a case after 23 days, then Japanese courts have a 99 per cent conviction rate.

According to Sugimoto, a couple of dozen policies were being purchased each month when he first launched the product, but that figure has soared to several hundred every month now.