Calls for Japan rape laws to be reformed after recent acquittals spark outrage

Not fighting back against sexual violence can make it impossible for prosecutors to prove rape in Japan

Maya Oppenheim
Women's Correspondent
Wednesday 12 June 2019 16:08
Demonstrators gathered in nine cities around the country in protest this week
Demonstrators gathered in nine cities around the country in protest this week

Campaigners and sexual abuse survivors are calling for rape laws to be reformed in Japan as recent acquittals of alleged rapists have sparked fury.

Demonstrators, who held flowers and placards with slogans that said #MeToo, gathered in nine cities around Japan this week to protest against the country’s legal system. Campaigners started holding monthly protests in April.

Not fighting back against sexual violence can make it impossible for prosecutors to prove rape in Japan.

Legislators amended the country’s century-old rape law in 2017 to include more stringent penalties but controversial requirements that prosecutors must prove that violence or intimidation was involved or that the victim was “incapable of resistance” remain in place.

The assumption in either law or in practice that a victim gives their consent because they have not physically resisted is profoundly problematic since experts have identified “involuntary paralysis” or “freezing” as a highly common physiological and psychological response to sexual assault.

In March, a court in Nagoya acquitted a father accused of raping his 19-year-old daughter.

According to a copy of the verdict seen by Reuters, the court recognised that the sex was nonconsensual and the father had physically and sexually abused the victim when she was younger and the fact he had used force.

However, the judges concluded that doubt remained as to whether she had no option other than to submit. The case is under appeal.

Campaigners argue the law places far too much onus on rape victims which stops them from coming forward and damages their chances in court if they choose to do so. They are calling for all non-consensual sex to be deemed a crime as is the case in the UK and Canada.

Amnesty International previously analysed rape legislation in 31 countries in Europe and found that only eight of them have consent-based legislation in place. Those countries are the UK, Sweden, Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium, Cyprus, Iceland and Germany. For the crime to be considered rape in the other European countries, the law requires, for example, the use of force or threats, despite the fact this is not what happens in a great majority of rape cases.

Japan has recently found itself in the public eye for failing to recognise gender equality in the wake of the global #MeToo movement. Only 2.8 per cent of sexual assault victims tell police due to fears of being blamed themselves and publicly shamed – with many choosing not to tell anyone at all.

A report last year by the government’s gender equality bureau showed nearly 60 per cent of female victims of rape kept it to themselves.

The issue of sexual harassment is prevalent in the country. A recent survey of 1,000 working women found that 42.5 per cent had experienced sexual harassment and that more than 60 per cent did not report it.

The Tokyo metropolitan police department recorded almost 900 cases of groping and other types of harassment on trains and subways in the Japanese capital in 2017.

Japan ranks bottom among the G7 countries for gender equality. A number of medical universities in the east Asian country last year admitted to meddling with entrance exam scores to deliberately put female applicants at a disadvantage.

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