Frotteurism: Sexual Assault or Accidental Encounter

International studies have demonstrated that most women have had the unfortunate and unwanted experience of some stranger copping a feel, pinching or being sexually rubbed against by a stranger. These patterns represent a sexual deviancy called a...

You receive a dispatched call of a sexual assault at the train station, with no further details.  You answer up, as does your beat partner.  On scene a transit officer shows you the reporting party; a young, attractive woman, in her late twenties named Angie.  She reports that while she was on a crowded rush-hour train, a male rubbed against her rear-end with an erection.  She wants to press charges.  You are somewhat baffled.  There is either no suspect; or if there is a suspect he claims it was an accidental encounter related to the tight quarters in the train car.  Is this a crime?

International studies have demonstrated that most women have had the unfortunate and unwanted experience of some stranger copping a feel, pinching or being sexually rubbed against by a stranger.   These patterns represent a sexual deviancy called a paraphilia; and yes, it is illegal. 


Paraphilias are defined as any sexual practices that are considered by a community or culture as an abnormal means of achieving orgasm or sexual arousal.  Paraphilias are sexual feelings or behaviors that may involve sexual partners that are not human, not consenting, or that involve suffering by one or both partners.  Quite simply, a paraphilia is a sexual perversion.  The most common paraphilias (in order of prevalence) are:

  • pedophilia (sexual activity with a child usually 13 years old or younger)
  • exhibitionism (exposure of genitals to strangers)
  • voyeurism (observing private activities of unaware victims)
  • frotteurism (touching, rubbing against a nonconsenting person)
  • fetishism (use of inanimate objects)
  • sexual masochism (being humiliated or forced to suffer)
  • sexual sadism (inflicting humiliation or suffering)


Frotteurism is a hands-on paraphilia: physical contact is present.  Frotteurism is defined as the intentional rubbing up against or the touching of another non-consenting person for the purpose of sexual arousal and/or sexual gratification.  A frotteur derives sexual pleasure from the touching of other people without their consent and frequently without their knowledge.  It is a sexual compulsive behavior. 

The usual scenario for the non-consensual rubbing contact, pinching and groping is in a crowded place.  Examples where this behavior most commonly occurs include the following:  elevators, escalators, subways, trains, buses, sporting events, spectator events, shopping, and theaters. Frequently, the victim in these cases is packed into such a tight space that they are not be able to respond quickly or at all.  Often, a victim is unaware or does not recognize the unwanted contact as an assault assuming the physical act of the frotteur was unintentional. 

In the act, the frotteur usually fantasizes that he is in an exclusive, caring relationship with the victim.  Part of the excitement from frotteurism comes from the risk of being caught which heightens the sexual response. However, frotteurs do realize that escape is paramount, and run away or hide immediately after the act. Most of these cases occur with males inappropriately touching females, although (there have been cases of females touching males, females touching females, males touching males, and adults touching children). Areas of the body most frequently groped include the buttocks, breasts, and thighs on woman, and the penis and testicles on a man.  Frotteurism is most common between the ages of 15 and 25. Comorbidity of frotteurism is very common; 68% of frotteurs also have another paraphiliac behavior; usually exhibitionism and/or voyeurism.

Frotteurism is not an American only problem, it occurs in many cultures.  In Japan and India especially, the problem has become so widespread that special train cars and buses have been converted to women only spaces.  In Japan groping is called “chikan”.  Studies reveal that over 66% of female passengers in their twenties and thirties reported that they had been groped on trains in Tokyo.

Frotteurism Laws

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