Many Japanese, in fact, believe that it is the victim’s fault or that the individual would be better off just staying quiet. Twitter posts tend to read something like this:
“I have never told anyone about the time I was assaulted nor have I spoken out about it. I didn’t even mention it to the friends I met up with afterward. I feel regret, shame and a sense of responsibility for what happened more than anger or sadness. I have tried to tell myself ‘It’s not a big deal.’ #MeToo”
A 2014 Cabinet survey found that, as a consequence, only 4.3 percent of women who say they were victims of sexual violence actually reported the incident. Statistics on how many of those cases were in fact investigated are unavailable and the number that ended in arrest is most likely miniscule.
A #MeToo Standard Bearer Emerges by Chance
In May of this year, Shiori Ito, a freelance journalist and documentary photographer, inadvertently became the symbol for the #MeToo movement in Japan when she went public with her experience of having been raped, and the high profile perpetrator waltzing away.
As a consequence of her press conference, she received hate mail and death threats, was called a liar and accused of trying to create a publicity stunt. “Victims in Japan are expected to keep quiet. The media and the police try to hide us. They tell us that it’s for our own good. But that’s not always so,” Ito explained. “I thought it was time that someone came forward so that others can, and things change.”
Ms. Ito alleged that she had been raped by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s close friend and biographer, Noriyuki Yamaguchi after meeting to discuss a business opportunity over dinner and drinks. Mr. Yamaguchi is one of a very small number of journalists who can make a direct call to Abe.
At the time of the assault she reported it to the police, but they tried to discourage her from filing a case. “These things happen a lot,” she was told, “and they are difficult to investigate.”
Only after she doggedly persisted did they try to gather evidence, ultimately finding the taxi driver and the hotel footage, both corroborating her unconscious condition at the time of the rape. The police were then willing to arrest him under the “quasi-rape” law which refers to taking advantage of a woman’s condition in order to have sex.
Intending to arrest Yamaguchi at Narita airport on June 8, 2015, the police ended up letting him go. As The Daily Beast reported in June, inquiries showed that the acting chief of the Tokyo Police Department’s criminal investigative division, another member of Abe’s circle, personally called off the investigation.
Beyond the police, Ms. Ito also tried to get help from a hospital and rape crisis center, but neither was adequately prepared to be of much assistance. The support system for victims of sexual assault in Japan leaves a lot to be desired – few police are familiar with the procedures for using rape kits and most hospitals don’t even have them. In addition, victims, themselves, feel lost as they’ve never been told what to do in this sort of situation.
In June 2017, after Ito’s press conference in May, an amendment to the 110 year old criminal law was passed raising the minimum jail term for rape from three years to five years. Most laws regarding sexual harassment or sexual assault in Japan, however, are either not enforced or lack corresponding reforms, such as legal consequences, investigations, and medical support.
Unwilling to let such crimes continue to be swept under the rug, Ms. Ito wrote a book called Black Box, a term used by police to portray incidents that will never become clear.
The book, which describes her ordeal and urges other victims to come forward, was published on Oct. 20, coincidentally emerging amid mounting international uproar over the seemingly endless sexual harassment exposures.
The book critic, Minako Saito, in her review of Ito’s book said that one realization she had upon reading the book was how easy Japan is on sexual perpetrators and how the country almost pretends it doesn’t happen.
A study by Japan’s news broadcaster, NHK, on what constitutes “sexual consent” showed 11 percent of the people surveyed thought that eating dinner alone as a couple constituted sexual consent; 23 percent thought that wearing skimpy clothes was equivalent to consent; 27 percent thought drinking together as a couple alone constituted consent; and 35 percent believed that getting drunk was equal to consent. In fact, it seemed that many had no understanding of the difference between consensual and nonconsensual sex.
This was echoed in “Cultural Aspects of Violence Against Women in Japan” an article published in the Lancet medical journal authored by Takako Konishi:
Although traumatic responses are common to all countries, there are some factors in Japanese culture that make it difficult for female victims to seek support. In the case of sexual assault, the seriousness of the crime tends to be downplayed by men and women alike. Both tend to consider that the damage done is ‘not serious’, and that an act of sexual violence is ‘not a crime.’
Molestation in crowded trains is probably the most common type of sexual victimisation in Japan. A survey done by my group in Tokyo showed that 60-70% of women had experienced this form of assault at least once. Although many women were psychologically distressed as a result, only 5% reported the experience to the police.”
The number of legal cases related to sexual assault is rapidly increasing but it remains a small number compared with the true extent of crimes committed. By contrast, attributes such as self-blame, tolerance, and suppression of feelings are praised. It follows that, if recovery from trauma is defined as the re-acquisition of self-esteem and self-control, a societal attitude that runs contrary to this process will hinder victims' recovery. Thus, although improvement in the clinical management of victims' physical injuries is necessary, a more urgent and important task in Japan is teaching specialists in the support services about the psychological needs of victims.
“How do you shed light on the various black boxes that exist throughout Japan? I wanted to open these boxes, which are always said by those on the outside to be unknowable, and start a conversation and a process of thinking about them,” explained Ito.
UPDATE DECEMBER 5, 2017
Today her case is being heard in a civil court and she is hopeful that the truth will come out during the oral arguements. In the meantime her book is number one on Amazon Japan.