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Society

Women fall prey to sexual abuse in Japan's job hunting season

Rise in private networking with alumni puts job-seekers at risk

Some students suffer sexual harassment in meeting with college alumni employed at the companies they hope to work for.

TOKYO -- "You want to work for us?" the man said, coercing a college student to down several drinks at a karaoke bar. "You cannot work at a trading company unless you can drink."

The student, a woman in her early 20s, obliged. She had come to Tokyo to learn more about a prestigious trading company where the man worked as part of her job-hunting effort. The man, 25, was an alumnus of her university, setting up what should have been an advantage for her. 

But the meeting did not go as she had expected. After getting her drunk, he groped her. The man escorted her back to her hotel room with co-workers but stole her key card, returned to the room later and raped her.

He was sentenced in October to three years in prison -- suspended for five years -- and dismissed from his job. The perpetrator had abused the power differential between him and his victim, the judge said.

The attack, which took place in March, turned a spotlight on the growing problem of job-hunting female students subjected to sexual harassment, or worse, from company employees who exploit their position of power over them.

Alumni visits sometimes involve alcohol, which poses dangers for job-seekers. 

A survey of workers by the Japanese Trade Union Confederation in May found that 12% of 20-something women had experienced sexual harassment or abuse from contacts at companies where they had sought work. They cited such behavior as offensive sexual jokes, sexual questions and repeated requests for a date. Many victims likely suffered in silence instead of speaking up.

Meetings with alumni are especially ripe for serious abuse.

Visiting with alumni who attended the same college or high school or belonged to the same sports team is seen as an effective way for students to learn about a company's selling points and internal culture.

This is partly because recruiting is no longer as straightforward on the employers' side as it once was. In a survey of the class of 2020 by job recruiter Disco, more than 70% of seniors had already received offers by the time the embargo on interviews was lifted in June.

More students are securing jobs through routes such as internships before recruiting season officially starts. That makes it more important for job seekers to gather information on potential employers through avenues outside the human resources department, such as alumni networking, according to Disco.

Services matching student job seekers with alumni have taken off in recent years. Among students graduating next year, 36% have visited employed alumni, according to Disco. Such networking has created opportunities for students to meet with current workers. It has also created an environment where company employees can abuse the power imbalance in the one-on-one meetings to take advantage of job hunters out of sight of schools or companies.

Aoyama Gakuin University in Tokyo has advised students to not conduct such visits at homes, bars or other closed spaces. But some say that is not enough.

"We can't tell students not to visit alumni," said an official at a private university. "As long as companies do not aggressively enforce countermeasures, we cannot completely prevent harm."

Binding workplace harassment guidelines being drafted by the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare will be designed to protect company employees. But student job seekers fall in a gray area: the ministry says it is "desirable" for companies to expand the scope to cover that group.

"Measures to protect students are still lagging," said Akemi Ueda, president of the research center Hanamaru Career who is an expert in job searching.

Naoyuki Kenjo, an attorney well-versed in the sexual harassment problem, cites a price for not taking action. "Companies should be aware of the risk of finding fewer job hopefuls due to sexual harassment during job hunting," he said.

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