When Robots Have More Protection From Sexual Harassment Than Humans

12月 16, 2017

In the comments of that Facebook post, one former teacher shared her first-hand experience of the reaction to the sexual harassment complaint that she had witnessed while working at Gaba:

 When I reported a client for sexual harassment, the manager said they wouldn’t cancel the client’s contract because they were afraid the client would counter sue Gaba because there is “nothing in the client’s contract about agreeing to not sexually harass instructors”. Despite this being the second report of harassment against the same client, the client was able to continue taking lessons at Gaba. 

– via Facebook

Aside from the mental gymnastics that the manager performed in order to shut down the complaint (more on that later), the situation that the teacher alledgedly experienced reminded us of a recent story that we’d heard about SoftBank’s famous “companion robot”, Pepper.



Back in September of 2015, Japanese Twitter user @shao1555 shared a photo of SoftBank’s “Notes On Purchasing The Pepper General Sale Model” which, among many other clauses and conditions, had two interesting stipulations:


(3) Acts of damaging this service or the trust of others; acts of harassing others or slander.

(4) Acts for the purpose of sexual or indecent behavior, or for the purpose of associating with unacquainted persons of the opposite sex. 


Suffice to say, the amusement incited by the prohibition of using Pepper for “sexual acts” or using Pepper to find “people of the opposite sex” lead some to question how this reflected upon the human condition:

 The clause in Pepper’s user contract prohibiting sexual behaviour comes at a time when our intimate relations with robots are being called into question. 


Others pondered SoftBank’s eminent wisdom in attempting to predict what intentions some people might have for their poor robot:

 It went on from there with others speculating that it meant you’re not allowed to use Pepper as a sex toy, or to promote adult entertainment. Whatever the true limitation for use, it’s likely the SoftBank kept the wording intentionally vague, and rightfully so; who knows what creative depths a robosexual mind is capable of? 

Sora News 

However, we’re more concerned with just what SoftBank prohibiting Pepper from being used for harassment – sexual or otherwise – says about Gaba.

SoftBank has thought about and done more to protect Pepper the robot from sexual harassment and deviant clients than Gaba has ever done for the actual living and breathing teachers that work for them.

If a telecommunications company has presence of mind enough to put contractual protections in place for a robot, what excuse does Gaba have for not having contractual protections in place for the people it recruits?

Pepper the robot has a sexual harassment policy.

Pepper the human teacher does not.

Just think about that that for a moment.



Now that we’ve established that there’s something in the contract that prevents you from creeping all over Pepper, let’s talk about Gaba’s aforementioned mental gymnastics:

 …the manager said […] there is “nothing in the client’s contract about agreeing to not sexually harass instructors“. 

– via Facebook

This is literally the reasoning that the judges in the 1997 Walt Disney Pictures movie “Air Bud” use to justify allowing a dog to play basketball.

Aside from allowing cross-bred Golden Retrievers to play limited contact sports, the old “not in the rulebook” trope doesn’t really hold up to much scrutiny when you’re playing with people’s safety and right to not be sexually harassed when you’re just trying to do your job.

“Well, the client has murdered three of our teachers, but there isn’t anything written in the client’s contract to say that they couldn’t murder teachers, so their money is still good!”

While it might sound facetious, what starts with sexual harassment in the classroom can very well end in someone’s death, as the murder of Lindsay Hawker in 2007 tragically demonstrated:

 Four days before she died, Ichihashi approached Hawker during her train journey home from work. Ichihashi at first said Hawker was his English teacher (she was not) and then asked her to confirm that. Ichihashi chased her as she cycled home and asked for a glass of water when she arrived. Hawker felt sorry for him and allowed him inside her flat, but, as a precaution showed him to her two flatmates. Once inside, Ichihashi drew a picture of her and signed it with his name, telephone number and e-mail address WhiteLover@Hotmail.com. The pair agreed to meet for an English lesson at a cafe four days later, which was permitted by the Nova school.

Hawker and Ichihashi met on Saturday, 24 March 2007 in a cafe. Afterwards, they caught a taxi to Ichihashi’s apartment, a few hundred yards away. Hawker told the taxi driver to wait for a short time and went to Ichihashi’s apartment. Seven minutes later, the taxi driver left after she failed to return. Hawker’s naked body was later found buried in a bath filled with a mixture of soil and sand on the apartment’s balcony. She had been bound and gagged with plastic ties and scarves, with one of her hands lying outside the mixture. 


While the issue of how much responsibility the Nova of 2007 had in regards to the events that led up to Lindsay Hawker’s murder is debatable, it cannot be denied that Nova “permitted” Lindsay Hawker to teach Ichihashi Tatsuya (therefore, permitting Ichihashi Tatsuya to be a Nova client).

It could also be argued that there were a lack of checks and balances in place to prevent – or, at least, somewhat derail – the tragedy from happening (assuming that the murder could have been prevented at all).

Much like SoftBank and Pepper, policies need to be proactive in advance of sexual harassment – not reactive as an attempt to salvage a public relations disaster.

This is one of the key reasons as to why the General Union cannot let this issue fall by the wayside: we cannot afford to wait for someone else to be murdered before basic policies and protections are put in place.



Of course, what happened to Lindsay Hawker was at the extreme end of the path that sexual harassment can lead to.

However, that shouldn’t mean that sexual harassment shouldn’t be tackled “just because” it usually doesn’t lead to someone being murdered.

If someone hit you with their car while you were crossing the street, you wouldn’t let them get them off the hook “just because” you suffered a few broken bones instead of being killed.

Likewise, sexual harassment shouldn’t be tolerated “just because” someone was groped by a client instead of being sexually assaulted.

It seems absurd to even be having to make the case against sexual harassment at all, but here we are.

So, why don’t companies such a Gaba have clear sexual harassment guidelines and / or hold clients accountable for their actions?

Is that companies want to sell private English lessons with the notion that the English teacher might just date the client?

 The industry seems to encourage sexuality. Advertising contains suggestive images, feeding perceptions that English is a gateway to foreign adventure and romance.

ECC ran a poster with a Japanese woman gazing into the eyes of a youthful Western male, a crystal-blue sky in the backdrop, and the caption: “What’s next?”

A poster for Gaba shows a woman standing side by side with her foreign teacher, handcuffed to him at the wrist — suggesting an altogether different kind of fantasy. 

Japan Times

The idea that private English lessons offer a “gateway to foreign adventure and romance” in the same way that host/hostess club might certainly seems to be a factor.

Hey, play your cards right (and keep paying for lessons) and that exotic foreign teacher might end up teaching you more than just language!

That really shouldn’t be the kind of message that teachers have to work under.

Hopefully, with your help, we can shame Gaba and other companies enough to make them decide that they’d rather stand with the teachers who attract the clients – rather than the clients who are attracted to the teachers.