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Finance Ministry case tip of sexual harassment iceberg for working women

TOKYO -- While TV Asahi admitted to not properly handling the alleged sexual harassment of one of their female reporters by top Finance Ministry bureaucrat Junichi Fukuda, cases of working women being harassed sexually outside their workplaces and suffering psychological grief is not a rare occurrence limited only to mass media.

The suspected case of Vice Minister of Finance Fukuda sexually harassing the female Asahi reporter has shone a light on the deepening problem of women being sexually harassed on the job by business associates outside their respective companies.

In one such case in 2016, a 32-year-old contract worker at a Tokyo bookstore was sexually harassed by a male wholesaler who hugged her and grabbed her chest. She consulted the female manager of the store, but the woman was simply advised to do her best to avoid being alone with the wholesaler. The issue was left unaddressed with the seller and the abuse continued.

"The manager also looked troubled, and I was concerned about my contract being renewed, so I didn't push the issue more strongly," the woman recalled. "At the time, I was just desperate to avoid not being touched (by the seller) without hurting his feelings." On Twitter and other social media, many also said that sexual harassment was an everyday occurrence when they worked in sales.

TV Asahi news division general manager Hiroshi Shinozuka said at an April 19 press conference, "We have to consider as an entire organization how we handle (incidences of sexual harassment) at our core, and the fact that we failed to do it properly is a point for self-examination."

"There must be some 'silent agreement' that if a female reporter is sexually harassed by a source while on the job, that it should be ignored for professional reasons," said lawyer Keiko Ota about the woman's case. Continuing that this so-called agreement is not at all limited to reporters, she emphasized, "There has to be a change in organizational culture which tolerates these transgressions in the name of profits."

Associate professor of sociology and harassment consultant at Hiroshima University Chisato Kitanaka argued that a lack of workplace support systems for victims is driving them away from reporting abuse. From her extensive experience handling workplace sexual harassment claims, she said, "Even if there is somewhere to report the incident within a company, there are very few firms that have organizational systems in place to handle such cases, from care for the victim, investigation of the allegations all the way to punishment. With the company not getting involved, many women have no choice other than to weigh suffering in silence or making a claim while knowing that they will have to quit their job because they spoke up."

According to a 2016 Japan Institute for Labor Policy and Training survey of female laborers between the ages of 25 and 44, 24.1 percent reported that they were sexually harassed by their immediate superior and 17.6 percent by their co-worker or subordinate, but 7.6 percent also reported being harassed by business partners or customers.

While it is the obligation of an employer to prevent workplace sexual harassment under the Act on Securing, Etc. of Equal Opportunity and Treatment between Men and Women in Employment, it seems that there is still work to be done to stamp out sexual harassment from outside business associates and other parties.

(Japanese original by Kasane Nakamura, Satoko Nakagawa and Haruka Udagawa, General Digital News Center)

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