Yesterday while I was browsing Instagram to distract myself from the grim reality of a packed Tokyo evening commute, an image of what was either a naked hedgehog or — far more likely — a man’s scrotum suddenly appeared on my phone screen.
There was a request to accept the image via AirDrop.
With no idea what to do but knowing the sender was watching for my reaction I made the most compelling gag face I could and jumped off the train as we pulled into a stop. Shocked, angry and with the image of a clammy ball sack etched into my memory, I came to the realization that I had been digitally flashed.
Relaying my story to friends after, I discovered that this was actually a laughably common experience. That’s right, the already deeply troubling issue of sexual perversion on trains in Japan had found a new, increasingly popular outlet: AirDrop. And it had a name! “AirDrop chikan,” sometimes known as “cyber chikan” — presumably for chikan (perverts) who don’t have iOS.
What exactly is AirDrop chikan?
AirDrop chikan is a phenomenon where somebody you don’t know tries to use Apple’s AirDrop function to send you a picture for kicks— sexual or otherwise. It only works if you have your bluetooth and Wifi switched on, and your AirDrop is set to receiving from “Everyone.” Unfortunately, these happen to be pretty common settings for most of us, until someone sends you a zoomed in shot of their tea bags and you decide to get to know your settings better.
What are people in Japan saying about it?
Though the issue is not new or unique to Japan (the BBC and Business Insider both reported on a story of “cyber flashing” on a train in London back in 2015,) it’s only just started to gain media airtime here in the past month. ChukyoTV, a local television channel in Nagoya, and HuffPost Japan each published articles about the problem of AirDrop chikan — which almost always involves a man sending it to a woman — in early October.
However, stories from victims have been circling on Twitter since the beginning of the year after a user who’d just purchased an iPhone for the first time received an unwanted image through AirDrop and tweeted:
AirDrop痴漢に遭遇したので注意してください！(A pervert just sent me something on AirDrop. Be careful!)
Users were then quick to share their own experiences with the hashtag #AirDrop痴漢 (AirDrop chikan, or molester), many sharing screenshots of the images being dropped.
— にゃんす太ヽ(｡･ω･｡) (@Sayu_yome) October 22, 2018
Scrolling through the hashtag, the pictures range from violating, i.e. your typical pasty dick pic or a page of gross manga porn, to what some might think of as humorous trolling with things like animals and even a plate of curry. And yes, while curry might not be that offensive to most (unless you really hated the stuff) the point is that I DID NOT ASK FOR A PICTURE OF YOUR F*KING CURRY.
What to do if you are a victim of AirDrop harassment
According to news reports, police have made at least two arrests of AirDrop chikan in Kansai this past summer; one was a male office worker in Hyogo Prefecture who sent a lewd image to a woman sitting opposite him while on the train to Kobe. The victim took a screenshot and a picture of the suspect, and took them to the police.
Another case again involved an office worker sending an obscene image to a nearby female passenger, this time on a train in Osaka. A witness in the carriage saw what the suspect was doing and questioned him before calling the transport police.
If you receive an offensive image via AirDrop, take a screenshot so that you have evidence of what happened and then report it to the train station staff and the police. When transferring data, the suspect leaves a digital footprint which can be analysed and traced back to the owner — even if the phone username that shows up on AirDrop is a fake one.
Most Japanese media reports recommend changing your AirDrop settings to be able to receive images from contacts only. Apple say that this is the default setting on new phones which I guess means that it’s my fault for changing the parameters that they have made available.
As usual the onus is on the victim to stay vigilant in order not to be sexually harassed, adding to a long list of defense behaviours that women, and men, have already had to internalize whenever they dare to venture out in public.
If this is a growing problem, then those with the power — police, railway companies, mobile operators, politicians and even Apple— need to do something to prevent it evolving from a “thing” to what’s far more dangerous: the norm.