National

Web service allows Japan’s harassment victims to send anonymous warnings to alleged perpetrators

by Sakura Murakami

Staff Writer

In the wake of high-profile sexual harassment cases involving a top Finance Ministry bureaucrat and a mayor in west Tokyo, a website was launched last week to allow victims of harassment to send anonymous warnings to the perpetrators.

Named Sorehara, the Japanese short form for “that’s harassment,” the service delivers warnings such as “there have been reports that you have harassed someone.”

The warnings continue with a gentle nudge urging the recipient to reflect on their past behavior by saying it is sometimes “hard to notice the consequence of your own actions. Does this notice ring any bells?”

The service launched by Quaerere Co., a startup based in Fujisawa, Kanagawa Prefecture, doesn’t require users to sign up or provide any personal information.

Users can report any type of harassment they have experienced, regardless of where it occurred.

Recipients of the warning have an option to reply by choosing one of several prepared reply messages, ranging from “I am sorry for my actions” to “I don’t recall harassing anyone.”

The service does not do anything other than send notifications, but Tatsuki Yoshida, president of Quaerere, explained that the whole point of the platform is to create a space where people can learn about the consequences of their actions.

Rather than being a platform for providing direct solutions about harassment issues, “Sorehara serves as a way of making people realize that what they said or did was actually harassment,” Yoshida said.

He said he wanted to help people suffering from harassment to take a stand against their perpetrators by making his service completely anonymous and accessible over the internet.

Yoshida said he talked to people who were “concerned about using their own company’s help lines because they feared being identified.”

“By ensuring anonymity I wanted to lower the barriers” people face when accusing others of harassment, he said.

Masaomi Kaneko, president of Workplace Harassment Research Institute, a center that provides consulting services, agreed that ensuring the victims can’t be identified is reassuring for those who want to issue a complaint.

Ensuring anonymity by making claims on the internet, however, also means it will be harder to verify the credibility of those claims.

“The premise of protecting harassment victims is that they are speaking the truth,” Kaneko said. “Being able to identify the victim is one way of ensuring that.”

But by providing complete anonymity, Sorehara runs the danger of not being able to ensure the validity of the claims made on its website, he said.

Still, Sorehara has sent 300 to 500 emails daily in the past week, according to Yoshida.

Many of the emails were sent to company-based addresses, which Yoshida believes shows that many victims of workplace harassment are taking the service seriously.

Talking about the future of the service, Yoshida said he wants to help companies “create better relationships within the workplace.”

“At a time when Japan is becoming increasingly diverse, I hope this service will help create a society where people can be open to each other about where the ‘line’ (of acceptable behavior) is.”

The address is sorehara.com.