Anti-groping app hugely popular among Japanese women

Groping on public transport is a huge problem for women in Japan.
Groping on public transport is a huge problem for women in Japan. Photo credit: Getty

An anti-groping app is helping Japanese women defend themselves against sexual harassment on public transport.

Digi Police was released by the Tokyo Metropolitan Police three years ago and has been downloaded more than 270,000 times since. The app was originally designed to help protect older people from financial scams as well as provide safety information for children and their parents.

A few months after the launch a new function was added which lets users activate a loud automated voice saying 'stop it!'. They can also bring up a full-screen message to show to others which reads: "There is a molester. Please help."

The app provides maps to nearby police stations as well as the ability to alert friends or family to one's location.

These functions are designed to help female commuters who find themselves being groped or harassed on public transport, which is such a common problem in Japan it has its own word: 'chikan'.

In 2017 Tokyo police recorded almost 900 reports of groping and other harassment on the city's trains and subways, the Guardian reports.

During rush hour in the country's most populous cities, women often report being felt up as they're crammed into crowded subway cars or train compartments. Assailants often use the crowded space to their advantage and it can be difficult for victims to get help from fellow passengers or identify who's touching them without their consent.

Police say Digi Police has achieved unprecedented popularity for a public service app, with the number of downloads increasing by approximately 10,000 every month.

Japan has made other attempts to reduce public transport groping, such as introducing women-only train carriages which first appeared in Tokyo in 2001. In recent years men have boarded the female-only compartments in protest at what they say is gender discrimination.

Other initiatives include posters reminding passengers that 'chikan is a crime' as well as security cameras to catch gropers in the act.