(Trigger Warning: Frank discussion of numerous sexual assault incidents)
We've touched briefly at Unseen Japan on the problems the Japanese justice system has handling rape allegations. The most talked about example in the past few months revolved around idol star Yamaguchi Maho; despite being assaulted and nearly raped by two "fans" who broke into her home, the case ended without any charges. We've also written about the well-to-do Keio University students who, despite being arrested five times, were ultimately released without charges. And there's the now-infamous case of Ito Shiori, whose case against a friend of Prime Minister Abe Shinzo's was mysteriously dropped by police just as they were about to press charges.
Unfortunately, a string of recent incidents shows that nothing is changing. And one in particular is drawing attention both in and outside of Japan for its tone-deafness.
In an article for Bunshun Online, Ramein (pseudonym), a lawyer who has defended sexual assault victims, describes a string of cases in which rape accusations were tossed over issues of consent or awareness. In the first case, a man in Fukuoka Prefecture stood accused of rape after assaulting a woman who was passed out after drinking tequila. The judge ruled that, while the woman was in no condition to resist, her rapist wasn't aware that she was unable to put up a fight or say "no." Since the woman had appeared to tolerate other "obscene acts" that had happened at the party the two attended, the judge ruled that the rapist was justified in taking this as consent, and let him free.
In the second case, in Shizuoka Prefecture, a woman who'd been raped testified that her mind "went blank" during the incident, and she couldn't muster the energy to resist. The judge ruled that, since there was "no resistance in a form that could be understood" by the assailant, the accused couldn't be found guilty.
(JP) With a Woman They'd Gotten Drunk on Tequila...Why A String of Baffling Acquittals in Sexual Assault Cases?
テキーラで泥酔させられた女性と……性犯罪で不可解な無罪判決が相次ぐのはなぜか | 文春オンライン
In a third incident (not discussed by Ramein), a now-19-year-old woman accused her father of raping her in 2017, saying that she felt she couldn't speak out because he was paying her fees to a specialty school. That case was (you guessed it) also tossed, as the judge ruled that he couldn't rule that the girl had a subordinate relationship to her father, and that she didn't have the ability to resist. (The fact that this was a father having sex with his daughter was, apparently, not enough to establish coercion.)
(JP) Link: Father Not Guilty of Incapacitated Sexual Intercourse with Daughter; "Inability to Resist" Not Admitted - Shizuoka Branch District Court
娘と準強制性交、父親無罪 「抵抗不能」認定できず 地裁岡崎支部 - 毎日新聞
As horrible as these incidents are, it's the last case that has people up in arms. In another case before Shizuoka District Court, a girl who was 12 at the time the assault started said that her father raped her 3 times a week for two years. But his case was also dismissed. The reason? The judge ruled that the victim "couldn't be believed" because she lived in a "cramped" house with seven family members - therefore, it was impossible that someone wouldn't have heard her resist.
(JP) Link: Not Guilty in Assault of 12 Year Old Oldest Daughter; Shizuoka District Court: "Victim's Testimony Not Credible"
The news seems to have gotten only scant coverage in the Japanese press. However, this case has been making the rounds on JP Twitter, with some citizens accusing their country of being a "rape paradise" (強姦天国). User hanakija38's much-shared tweet sums up many people's feelings:
2年間にも渡り自宅で週３回、娘に性交を強要していた父親、自宅が狭小で大家族なのに、家族が気付かないのはおかしいから無罪って、裁判官の頭がおかしいわ！身内からの性犯罪、受けた傷は計り知れない。日本は強姦天国か？— はな (@hanakija38) 2019年3月28日
12歳長女への強姦で無罪判決 静岡地裁 - 毎日新聞 https://t.co/sDNzkPvquw
The judge who ruled a father was not guilty of forcing himself on his daughter three times a week for two years because it was "odd" that no one would have heard them in such a cramped house should have his head examined! The wounds from sexual assault in your own family are immeasurable. Is Japan a rape paradise?
Critics of the "rape paradise" charge have shot back that, statistically, Japan has very low sexual assault rates - 1.0 per every 100,000 people, compared to much higher rates in other developed nations. But women's rights advocates have shot back that these numbers are the result of underreporting, and are part and parcel of the problem: Japan, they say, has created an environment where victims won't be believed, but will - like Ito Shiori - be subjected to a "second rape" in the media should they dare speak out.
Why are so many cases of sexual assault ending without conviction in a nation that prides itself on a 99.9% conviction rate? Lawyer Ramein explains Japanese law determines consent by looking primarily at the victim's actions:
So by what standard is the "victim's consent" determined in court? As a practical matter, "violence and coercion" in sexual assault crimes is handled in both cases by the "victim's consent." In other words, the existence of the "victim's consent" is determined by the degree of violence and coercion, and the victim's resistance.
In Ramein's view, many of the injustices seen in these cases could be reversed by better educating judges about the psychology of victims - e.g., getting judges to understand that it's common for victims to freeze during an assault, and that "lack of resistance" doesn't equate to consent. The writer sees Japan as in a "transition period," and believes that the country will, unfortunately, continue to see more such cases until a greater awareness of victim's psychology spreads among judges.
The attitude of judges, however, is just one part of the problem. There's also the issue of how victims are treated by society and in the press - i.e., the need to create a climate where it's safe for women to speak up. Sadly, the current government is offering little in the way of policy initiatives to create such a climate. It will likely be up to lawyers and social activists in the coming years to push Japan's culture in a new direction.
I'm the publisher of Unseen Japan. I hold an N1 Certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and am married to a wonderful woman from Tokyo.
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