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Female passengers in Tokyo queue for a "Women Only" carriage before the pandemic. Over the years many women have been groped by men and the taking of illicit photographs – upskirting –is on the rise. Photo: AFP

Japan records surge in upskirt photography, perverts ‘bored’ amid pandemic to blame, experts say

  • ‘Closure of sex businesses, better equipment’ enable perpetrators to take more illegal pictures
  • Move follows government measures to tackle technology used in crimes, particularly against young people
Japan

Buoyed by increasing public willingness to call out ‘chikan’, the gropers who prey on women on the nation’s famously crowded public transport system, Japanese police have launched a crackdown on another variety of sex pest – the growing number of upskirt photography enthusiasts.

Across the country police have reported a surge in illicit snaps, with a crime expert suggesting it is because of new technology making it easier to take unauthorised pictures under a woman’s skirt, the closure of commercial sex businesses during the pandemic and boredom during repeated coronavirus states of emergency.

In 2010 there were 1,741 arrests in Japan in connection with illegal photographs being taken of women, police statistics show. That figure more than doubled in 2019, rising to 3,953. Police in Osaka Prefecture, the area spearheading the new crackdown, said 144 cases were reported in the first six months of 2021, up 30 per cent on the same period last year.

Most cases of upskirting (‘tosatsu’) involved assailants using mobile phones, although 610 of the incidents reported in 2019 entailed sophisticated photographic equipment, such as miniaturised cameras concealed in shoes, umbrella tips, pens or glasses.

“Silent camera apps originally developed to quietly take photos of sleeping babies with smartphones are used in many cases,“ Goki Jojima, chief of the community safety division at the Minami Police Station in Osaka, told The Asahi newspaper.

The Osaka crackdown involves officers in busy areas, including train stations – favoured hunting places for would-be photographers – telling people that women are being targeted. Information leaflets are being handed out, there is a police video campaign and plain clothes officers are being deployed.

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The initiative comes after a series of measures announced in June by the Japanese government to tackle the menace of technology used in crimes – particularly of an exploitative nature – against young people.

The Fifth Basic Plan on Measures for Providing Safe and Secure Internet Use for Young People mandates more education programmes in schools to teach children about potential dangers online, including awareness of what constitutes harmful content and tactics abusers use to obtain and share illicit photographs of minors.
“The biggest change in the last couple of years has been in the technology that is available,” said Jake Adelstein, a former crime reporter with Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper who has lived in the country for three decades.

“Previously, the law required manufacturers to install a very audible shutter noise on mobile phones that would make a sound every time someone took a photograph.”

The author and journalist said that made it much harder for people “to take a sneaky photo on an escalator or a train, for example. But anyone with a bit of tech knowledge can get around that now as there are apps that silence the shutter noise and imported phones do not have the sound installed”.

“The situation has also got worse because people have been at home during the pandemic, they have had a lot of time on their hands and they have been bored, so they have been able to spend time and money on getting around the rules.”

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Adelstein also suggested that men who would typically visit adult entertainment venues have been frustrated by their closure during the states of emergency imposed to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

According to The Asahi, crime prevention expert Mika Kyoshi said illegally-taken images can go viral online and become irretrievable. She urged women to keep their distance from those behind them on stairs or escalators and take other precautions to prevent voyeurism.

Japan has also had a thriving business in illicit upskirt videos although the authorities have been trying to clamp down on producers. As a result, most recorded footage now is for private consumption, Adelstein said, although some is probably still being sold ‘underground’.

“The number of cases does seem to have increased, but I would not say arrests have gone up dramatically,” he said. “To me, this appears to be the police making progress in other campaigns, such as the effort against ‘chikan’ and then wanting to expand that into another problem area.

“A police crackdown like this is going to get a lot of coverage, purely because of the nature of the crime, and they are probably hoping to scare people off by giving it such a high profile,” he added.

If the Osaka campaign against upskirting is effective, it could be employed elsewhere in Japan.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Sex pests ‘bored’ by pandemic blamed for surge in upskirt photography
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