Pixiv Announces Reforms After Harassment of Transgender Employee

Pixiv Announces Reforms After Harassment of Transgender Employee

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Transgender flag
Picture: Canva
The online art community company announces a series of reforms after a transgender ex-employee accused them of misconduct.

Workplace harassment remains a hot topic in Japan. And it’s slowly spreading to include other protected classes of employees. One Internet company’s new regulations after a harassment scandal are a sign of these changing times.

(Warning: This story contains descriptions of sexual and gender harassment.)

A history of sexual harassment

Pixiv is an online art community where visual artists and authors can post their work for fans to discover.

The site, launched in 2007, has long been a mainstay of art communities in numerous countries[1]. According to Pixiv’s own statistics, as of 2021, the company had 71 million registered users. While most of those are Japanese users, its overseas presence is growing. Half of its users are posting in a language other than Japanese (English, Korean, Simplified & Traditional Chinese) and are posting 240,000 works a month[2].

Unfortunately, the company’s also been no stranger to scandal. In 2018, a former member of idol group Niji Conquistador (虹のコンキスタドール) sued then-CEO Nagata Hiroaki for sexual harassment. (Niji was born from a Pixiv project. While 虹 means “rainbow”, it also sounds like 二次元 [niji-gen, “two-dimensional”] – a shout-out to its parent company.)

The (at the time) 22-year-old member made a series of stunning accusations. She said that Nagata insisted she give him full body massages and stay with him on a trip together. She says he even set up cameras in his bathroom to spy on her[3].

Faced with these accusations, Nagata promptly resigned as CEO the same year. I couldn’t find any sources on how the case turned out. From what I could see, however, neither Nagata nor Pixiv admitted any fault in the matter.

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Gender harassment – and an admission

Fast forward to 2021. A transgender female employee sued Pixiv and her former manager there for 12.1 million yen (around USD $86,000 as of September 2022). She alleged ongoing gender and sexual harassment during her time at the company[4]. Besides verbal harassment, she says the former manager also stuck his face into her genitals.

That’s clearly a case of sexual harassment and assault. But because gender discrimination was involved to boot, it was a case of what’s becoming known as “SOGI harassment” (SOGIハラスメント) in Japanese. (“SOGI” is short for Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity.)

The woman further alleges that she consulted Pixiv’s internal lawyers and HR about the incidents. At the time, they said they’d transfer her out of the department and also not force her to participate in events with the manager. However, she claims, the company reneged on those promises.

But what happened after the lawsuit was filed was surprising and encouraging: Pixiv admitted the allegations were true.

On May 31st, 2022, Pixiv released a statement saying that “we’re aware harassment is an inexcusable act.” It said it had demoted the manager in 2019 for their actions.

The company didn’t make a direct admission of fault. However, it further said that it had employed outside experts to help create new policies around harassment and establish a “harassment consultation center” for employees.

A commitment to reform

And indeed, Pixiv stayed true to its word. In August 2022, in a dual Japanese/English announcement, they announced that they were introducing a comprehensive new diversity and inclusion policy aimed at curbing harassment[6].

Pixiv’s statement on its quest for greater Diversity and Inclusion

While acknowledging “the trust we have lost cannot be easily regained”, it said:

We will continue to strive to realize a healthy work environment that is free from harassment, respects basic human rights, and is respectful and inclusive of diversity.

We are aware that it will take some time before our company is viewed as trustworthy once again, but we will make every effort to implement change in that direction moving forward.

The post links to two statements, a Declaration of Elimination of Harassment and a Diversity and Inclusion Declaration. The Diversity and Inclusion declaration explicitly covers “sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, age, nationality, culture, and disability”.

A changing Japan

As usual, not everyone is happy with Pixiv’s move. A lot of grumbling came online from some English Twitter users rambling against “woke ideology”.

Unseen Japan on Twitter: “The announcement that Pixiv will work to create a more friendly working environment for all of its employees is drawing fire from Westerners who are under the impression that Japan doesn’t have (1) an issue with workplace harassment, (2) LGBTQ+ people, or (3) women. pic.twitter.com/0yoliDwzAv / Twitter”

The announcement that Pixiv will work to create a more friendly working environment for all of its employees is drawing fire from Westerners who are under the impression that Japan doesn’t have (1) an issue with workplace harassment, (2) LGBTQ+ people, or (3) women. pic.twitter.com/0yoliDwzAv

Sadly, these commenters don’t seem to understand just how far these debates have advanced in Japan in recent years. LGBT rights in particular are progressing at a rapid pace. For example, various municipalities around Japan have introduced partnership systems (パートナーシップ制度) that allow same-sex partners to gain many of the benefits of straight married couples. When Tokyo introduces its own partnership system this year, over half of the country’s citizens will enjoy partnership rights.

And we can see changing attitudes towards sexual harassment in numerous recent stories. There is, of course, the story of Ito Shiori. Her lawsuit against her attacker Yamaguchi Noriyuki helped spark Japan’s #MeToo movement.

We can also see change in the story of Kabuki and TV actor Kagawa Teruyuki. Recently, reporters discovered that a Ginza club hostess had accused Kagawa of sexual harassment and abuse. Kagawa and his agency admitted to the charges – and immediately tried to move on so Kawaga could continue his career.

Unseen Japan on Twitter: “Kagawa Teruyuki’s attempt to apologize on live TV for sexually assaulting a Ginza hostess in 2019 may be backfiring. Social media uproar is unsettling ad companies & TV execs, with Toyota (for whom he’s a spokesman) calling his actions “regrettable”. https://t.co/8CDMcvvkjg / Twitter”

Kagawa Teruyuki’s attempt to apologize on live TV for sexually assaulting a Ginza hostess in 2019 may be backfiring. Social media uproar is unsettling ad companies & TV execs, with Toyota (for whom he’s a spokesman) calling his actions “regrettable”. https://t.co/8CDMcvvkjg

However, that hasn’t gone according to plan. Online reaction was swift and damning, with many wondering why Japan seemed so lax towards male sexual offenders.

Unseen Japan on Twitter: “(TW: sexual assault)”Kagawa Teruyuki admitting on his am show he committed sexual assault, apologizing, & doing the show as normal is super-scary. Japan is so lax towards sex offenders? I don’t wanna see the face of someone who unhooked a woman’s bra w/o permission, https://t.co/z5mJRmWJIw / Twitter”

(TW: sexual assault)”Kagawa Teruyuki admitting on his am show he committed sexual assault, apologizing, & doing the show as normal is super-scary. Japan is so lax towards sex offenders? I don’t wanna see the face of someone who unhooked a woman’s bra w/o permission, https://t.co/z5mJRmWJIw

As a result of the backlash, Kagawa has lost several advertising and TV gigs already. And the fallout doesn’t seem finished.

A decade or so ago, the public and media might have let such behavior go. Some commenters noted that such behavior was more or less expected in the world of Kabuki at one point.

But times are changing. It’s good to see that some companies, such as Pixiv, are committed to changing with them.

Japanese Start SHELLY Defends Trans People in Abortion Remarks

Sources

[1] ピクシブ. Wikipedia JP

[2] pixiv14周年!アクティブユーザーの半数が海外からに! 14周年記念インフォグラフィックを公開 〜国内外で広がるpixiv、登録ユーザー数7100万人・累計投稿数1億作品を突破〜. Pixiv

[3] 「虹コン」元メンバー・セクハラ被害 ピクシブ前社長に「NOは言えなかった」意見陳述. Bengoshi Dot Com News

[4] ピクシブ社、トランスジェンダーへのSOGIハラを認め謝罪。提訴で声明発表. Huffington Post JP

[5] 弊社におけるハラスメントに関する報道について. Pixiv

[6] ハラスメント撲滅宣言、ダイバーシティ&インクルージョン宣言を策定いたしました. Pixiv

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Jay Allen

Jay is a resident of Tokyo where he works as a reporter for Unseen Japan and as a technial writer. A lifelong geek, wordsmith, and language fanatic, he has level N1 certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test (JLPT) and is fervently working on his Kanji Kentei Level 2 certification.

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