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Job-hunting apps expose Japanese women to sexual assault: ‘Companies and universities failing to grasp grim reality’

Job-hunting apps are putting women in Japan at risk of sexual assault and harassment, academics and career advisers have warned. 

As more firms use recruiters to find talent, apps that help students who are looking for jobs to meet employed alumni are becoming increasingly common.

This has led to an increase in one-to-one meetings between students and employees where young women seeking career advice are more at risk of experiencing sexual harassment and assault.

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The number of students requesting help over sexual harassment during their job search is steeply rising, one career adviser at a public university told Tokyo-based Nihon Keizai Shinbun newspaper. 

Chisato Kitanaka, an associate professor at Hiroshima University and a specialist on sexual harassment issues, added that the scale of the problem was not known.

“There are many cases in which victims don’t come forward with their experiences,” she told the newspaper. “Companies and universities are failing to grasp the grim reality of the problem.”

A male employee of trading house Sumitomo Corp was arrested on suspicion of raping a student after getting her drunk in March. The two met when the student visited the company to get help to procure a job.

After the employee was arrested, Sumitomo announced prevention measures, including a ban on drinking with job-hunting students. The firm has also limited meetings between its employees and students to between 1pm and 6pm on weekdays. They are supposed to take place at facilities within the company. It has also prohibited the use of matching apps.

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Another case involved an employee at a construction company who was arrested after allegedly committing an obscene act with a female student. The two had met via an app intended to link up students and employed alumni.

But companies and universities are striving to address the issue – with Aoyama Gakuin University recently posting an advisory on its website for students, advising job-seekers to steer clear of meeting workers in “closed places such as private homes, pubs and karaoke booths.”

The career centre at a private university in Tokyo got a request for help from a student who said she was receiving numerous messages from an employee of a firm she wanted to join, Nihon Keizai Shinbun reported. 

They met at a company-sponsored information session for potential job applicants but she continued getting messages asking her for drinks afterwards.

The student talked about the issue with a university counsellor. She told them she was anxious about refusing the invitation could damage her chances of managing to obtain a position at the firm.

In a bid to tackle the problem, Rikkyo University has displayed newspaper articles about sexual abuse cases in which students were victimised to make them aware of the risk.

App operators are also attempting to deal with the issue – with one permitting only employees designated by subscribing companies to register.

While current law requires firms to take measures to avert sexual harassment in the workplace – the labour ministry already has established detailed guidelines for firms to follow – the legislation does not cover students searching for jobs. 

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As a result it is contemplating reviewing the guidelines to urge companies to confront the mounting problem.

Japan has recently found itself in the public eye for failing to recognise gender equality in the wake of the global #MeToo movement against sexual harassment and assault

The issue of sexual harassment continues to be prevalent in the country. A recent survey of 1,000 working women carried out found that 42.5 per cent had experienced sexual harassment and that more than 60 per cent did not report it.

Japan ranks bottom of the G7 countries on female representation in politics and business. A number of medical universities in the East Asian country last year admitted to meddling with entrance exam scores to deliberately put female applicants at a disadvantage.