Tue, Jul 31, 2018 - Page 13 News List

The ‘cat who seeks justice’

Japanese harassment Web site takes complaints to extremes despite its cute interface

AP, Tokyo

In this photo provided by Quaerere Co., Ltd, the company’s Sorehara Web site shows a range of grievances for users to select, from sexual harassment to smell harassment. Sorehara is an abbreviation of the Japanese for “That’s harassment.”

Photo: AP

A cartoon cat in a purple robe brandishes a tiny gavel as it comforts another cat yowling from abuse: The images welcoming visitors to Sorehara, a Japanese Web site for anonymous complaints about harassment and other grievances, are deceptively endearing.

“You don’t have to suffer alone. Get help from the cat who seeks justice,” it says.

Sorehara, an abbreviation of the Japanese for “That’s harassment,” was devised by a 21-year-old college student and, like many #MeToo apps and Web sites, is meant to help victims of abuse safely fight back against their tormentors.

It allows users to send anonymous complaints by e-mail, without registering any personal information and is gaining popularity in Japan, despite some concerns over the potential for its misuse.

On-the-job harassment is gaining attention as the #MeToo movement slowly takes root here. Sexual harassment claims have brought on recent resignations of high-profile officials, pop stars and professors.

JAPANESE EXTREMES

But the Web site doesn’t focus just on sexual misbehavior. Sorehara goes to very Japanese extremes in allowing users to register their disapproval electronically to those who offend them in all sorts of ways, including indulging in garlic, wearing excessive perfume or smelling too strongly of cigarette smoke.

Victim blaming can be severe in highly conformist Japan so anonymity is essential for helping them feel safe, says Tatsuki Yoshida, 21, who developed Sorehara and founded his start-up Quaerere last year.

“In Japan, companies don’t like to deal with harassment issues. People who raise their voices about harassment usually just get moved to a different department or maybe given a raise. Or they get fired,” he said in a recent interview in Fujisawa, southwest of Tokyo.

A college sophomore, he is taking time off from his studies to work on Sorehara.

Inappropriate behavior and unwanted sexual advances, repugnant and dangerous as they can be, are just part of a universe of gripes people might have about their co-workers.

So Sorehara offers users various options, including “power harassment,” bullying, alcohol harassment, sexual harassment and even “smell harassment.”

Next, they choose the level of severity, ranging from mere annoyance to threatening legal action. They fill in the e-mail and a name or nickname of the person accused of the misbehavior, but not their own e-mail or name. The Japanese-language site gives an option to delay sending the message for up to two months, to reduce the possibility of the accuser being recognized.

Recipients get an e-mail politely notifying them of the harassment claim, asking if they recognize it and providing a choice of responses such as: “I will reflect on my behavior,” or “I have done nothing wrong.”

DEALING WITH HARRASSMENT

An English version was released recently, and a Korean-language version is in the works.

The #MeToo era has inspired companies, colleges and support groups to devise all sorts of apps and other online support for victims of sexual harassment and other abuses.

Some, like Protibadi in Bangladesh, HarassMap in Egypt and bSafe use mapping and GPS technology to help protect people by identifying potentially unsafe locations or notifying a user’s friends if the person seems to be in trouble. AI-powered chatbots like Spot, developed in California, automate harassment reporting. Others focus on support and counseling for victims. Few combine anonymity with direct online complaints the way Sorehara does.

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