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In a sexual context, groping or fondling is touching another person in an unwelcome sexual way. The term generally has a negative connotation in many societies, and the activity may be considered sexual assault or otherwise unacceptable. Touching a consenting person's body during sexual activity, massage, or medical examination is not usually considered groping, though the term is sometimes used to include clumsy, selfish, or inappropriate sexual touching. Areas of the body most frequently groped include the buttocks, breasts, vulva and thighs on a woman, and the penis, testicles and buttocks on a man. Gropers might use their hands, but pressing any part of their body against another person can be considered groping.
The practice of women being subjected to a pat down by officers, such as customs or security officers at airports, is controversial, though most women reluctantly accept being touched in this manner as a fact of modern life. Such behaviour by public officials requires a clear legal authorization.
There was an incident in Australia in August 2019 when the host at a charity event offered his cheek to a female guest presenter for a peck, before turning his head and kissing her on the lips. The presenter publicly said “that kind of behaviour is intolerable and the time for women being subject to it or having to tolerate it is long gone." The host apologised for his behaviour.
Toucherism, considered a paraphilia, is a practice of a person touching another non-consenting person with their hands, typically in crowds, for their own sexual pleasure. Groping may be featured in pornographic films.
The incidence of groping varies around the world, and some countries have acquired a reputation for it.
Italy used to have a reputation for men pinching women's bottoms, and the term groping could perhaps be applied, but it was not a common term at that time (mid-20th century, for example). Japan has a reputation for men groping women on trains and buses to the extent that the authorities have implemented anti-groping campaigns, which has received considerable media attention and been the subject of serious study in recent years.
In parts of South Asia, including India, Nepal and Bangladesh, public sexual harassment or molestation (often known as "street harassment") of women by men is widely referred to as Eve teasing.
In many countries, non-consensual sexual touching of any part of another person's body is considered to be sexual assault and is illegal, but in almost all countries it is considered unacceptable behaviour.
In practice, women are the predominant targets for groping. To combat groping, street harassment, and Eve teasing of women in crowded public places, some countries have also designated women only spaces. For example, sex-segregated buses, women-only passenger cars, and compartments on trains have been introduced in Mexico, Japan, the Philippines, the UAE and other countries to reduce such sexual harassment.
Some places in Germany, Korea, and China have women's parking spaces, often for related safety issues. Many more countries, including Canada, the United States, Italy, Japan, and the United Kingdom also grant parking privileges to pregnant women, for safety or access reasons.
In Japan, a man who gropes women in public is called chikan (痴漢); and the term also describes the act itself. Crowded trains are a favorite location for groping and a 2001 survey conducted in two Tokyo high schools revealed that more than 2/3rds of female students had been groped while traveling on them. As part of the effort to combat the problem, some railway companies designate women-only passenger cars during rush hours.
While the term is not defined in the Japanese legal system, vernacular usage of the word describes acts that violate several laws. Although crowded trains are the most frequent targets, another common setting is bicycle parking areas, where people bending over unlocking locks are targeted. Chikan is often featured in Japanese pornography.
This issue affects men in a different way. Since Japan has a very high conviction rate (99% by some sources), innocent men may have difficulty proving their innocence in court. The film I Just Didn't Do It by Japanese film director Masayuki Suo, based on a true story, focuses on a male office worker acquitted of groping after a five-year legal battle. The criminal courts have traditionally been lenient in cases of groping and have only recently made efforts to combat the social problem with tougher sentences.
Groping is illegal in the United States[clarification needed] when there is no consent. The charge can vary from state to state but generally is considered to be sexual battery, sexual groping, or unlawful touching. In some jurisdictions, groping is considered criminal sexual conduct, in the second to fourth degree[clarification needed], if there is no sexual penetration.
- Louisiana: Title 14, criminal law RS 14:43.1; §43.1. Sexual battery: A. Sexual battery is the intentional touching of the anus or genitals of the victim by the offender using any instrumentality or any part of the body of the offender, or the touching of the anus or genitals of the offender by the victim using any instrumentality or any part of the body of the victim, when any of the following occur: (1) The offender acts without the consent of the victim.
- Michigan: The Michigan Penal Code (except), Act 328 of 1931, 750.520e Criminal sexual conduct in the fourth degree; misdemeanor. Groping is considered Criminal Sexual Conduct specifically; (v) When the actor achieves the sexual contact through concealment or by the element of surprise.
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