National / Crime & Legal

Sticker used to catch gropers red-handed is a hit with female commuters

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

A sticker created by Saitama Prefectural Police to deter gropers on trains has proved so popular among women that stocks have almost run out.

The police began distributing the stickers for free to women and girls in mid-January. Measuring 2.5 cm, the round, dual-layer sticker bears the message “Don’t touch!” in Japanese and is intended to be stuck on something a commuter will be carrying, such as a mobile phone or a holder for a transit pass.

If the person bearing the sticker is groped, she can show it to the culprit “as a warning,” said Riichi Oto, deputy chief of the prefecture’s railway police.

“If the suspected groper doesn’t stop molesting, she then can peel off the surface layer, which exposes a (red) cross in (special) ink which the person can apply to the offender’s hand” like a stamp, leaving proof of criminal conduct, Oto said.

The railway police started handing out the stickers at their facility in Omiya Station on Jan. 16. Officers also distributed them from police boxes around the prefecture.

The stock of 4,000 sheets ran out on April 24, about nine months earlier than expected, Oto said, adding that the police have placed an order for another 5,000.

“There are many people who have high awareness about preventing groping, and want to commute without worrying,” Oto said.

Those who took the stickers varied, from students to fathers and grandparents who said they would give it to their daughters and grandchildren, according to Oto.

Despite the high take-up, the effect of the sticker remains to be seen. Oto said police have yet to receive reports that the sticker halted a groper in mid-act or that it led to an arrest.

If the sticker becomes more widely known among the public, its deterrence effect will grow, Oto said.

The railway police have sought measures to protect beleaguered women on trains in light of an increase in the number of reports of groping.

They received 255 complaints from victims last year, up from 125 in 2009, Oto said. He added that many were teenagers or in their 20s.

Moreover, the police heard some victims say they had been too scared to speak up or to ask others for help, Oto said.

The railway police feared “mischief from groping might remain invisible if female victims were unable to report their cases to police,” he said.

As for the risk that the sticker could be used to falsely accuse a man for groping, as some have warned, Oto said police will take into account other evidence such as , such as verifying the situation closely and eyewitness accounts.