Global Human Rights Defence

Insufficient Supply of Security for Women in Japan Meets Increasing Demands for Justice, Where is the Equilibrium?
Source: Orange The World, Impakter, 2021

Department: Japan

Author: Naomi Loond

Shiori Ito – a woman who became the face of the MeToo Movement, and voiced the issues of how sexual violence is dealt with in Japan – came forward with her story of being raped in Japan and the mistreatment she incurred from the police. When she went to the police, they asked her to reenact her rape. In the past decade, multiple women in Japan have come forward with stories that not only highlight the horrors of sexual violence but their mistreatment and lack of protection under the law and from law enforcement. She said that while she was at the police station “I had to lie down on the floor and they placed this doll on top of me and started moving it”, they started asking her if this is how the rape took place. She called this a “second rape”. Since then, many more women have come out with similar stories about how the police have asked them to reenact their traumatic experience, causing them to undergo more psychological trauma and potentially pushing some women to not come forward with the crimes committed against them.

 

In July of 2021, the British Embassy in Tokyo released an informational report titled: Japan: information for victims of rape and sexual assault. They highlighted that using a “dummy” to reenact the assault was common practice, and traumatizing for many. They also discussed how difficult it can be to prove assault in Japan. Since force and intimidation needs to be proven, many victims are asked difficult questions, have to reenact their rape, or are sent back to the setting of their rape so they can recount the event to the police. Although they comply with these difficult investigative procedures, many cases do not go to court. Recently, in 2019, a case caused a lot of outrage amongst women. A 19-year old girl was raped by her father; however, because it could not be determined if she had resisted, he faced no consequences. Due to the strict wording of the Japanese penal code, the father received no punishment.

 

In the past year, a councilwoman accused the mayor of her town (Kusatsu) of rape. She was discredited and criticized by the public as a whole. This eventually led to a vote where 90% of the inhabitants claimed she ruined the town’s reputation, resulting in her being voted out of her seat.8 This depicts political inequality (which is considered as discrimination against women) as a result of sexual violence.

 

Rape and sexual assault within Japanese domestic law

Japanese national legislation has incorporated norms to respond to situations of sexual violence. Thus, in criminal matters, for example, the Japanese Penal Code of criminal law in Articles 176, 177, and 178 refer to forcible indecency, rape and quasi-forcible indecency and quasi-rape.

 

It is important to note that there is no mention of consent, nor whether saying no and still being assaulted is enough to prove force.

International Law and Women’s Human Rights

Japan has signed (17/07/1980) and ratified (25/06/1985) the Convention Eliminating Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). Article 1 highlights the main basis of what is considered as discrimination against women. Although the CEDAW includes protection for women from gender inequality such as political and employment bias, it does not create obligations that highlight women’s sexual safety from assaulters and sex offenders. There is a lack of explicit reference to sexual violence.

 

In 1992, the Committee highlighted that Article 1 goes hand in hand with gender-based violence as it inflicts “deprivation of liberty” and rights such as “the right to life” and the right to freedom of torture among others. Besides, the Committee made 24 relevant recommendations related to further protection against violence toward women. Some recommendations include overcoming all forms of gender-based  violence (recommendation: 24 (a)), protection for women from family violence (recommendation: 24 (b)), and creating support services for victims (recommendation: 24 (k)).

 

The recommendations themselves are ones that should be followed by every State, but as they are not obligatory or legally binding, there is no mandatory need for the State to follow them.

In 2009, the Committee released the concluding observations concerning the situation in Japan. Upon examination, concerns arose about the lack of protection for women. The Committee urged the State to address violence against women as a violation of human rights. They urged the State to follow these recommendations:

  • Compensation for victims
  • Educate the public
  • 24/7 free hotline with counselling
  • Protective services for immigrants and vulnerable women
  • Ensure law enforcement is capable of providing adequate support for victims

The Committee also encouraged the State to make the prison sentence for rape longer, and change their penal code to rape so it states, “crimes involving violations of women’s rights to bodily security and integrity”.

Multiple women have come forward about their mistreatment by the police. Some have even claimed that the police have seen the perpetrators as victims, and the men have faced little to no prison time for the crimes they committed. One woman who was raped and abused by her husband was put into a “shelter” for women, but she claims it was more like a prison as she was not allowed phone calls, had no windows and was not treated as a victim. This shows recommendations concerning the protection of immigrants, and adequate support for victims are not being pursued by the State.

Another treaty that Japan has ratified is the Convention against Torture (CAT). This treaty contains legally binding articles that Japan has been in breach of because of their lack of protection and mistreatment of women suffering sexual trauma. Article 1 clearly states that any form of pain inflicted by a third party through intimidation or coercion on the basis of discrimination can be seen as torture. This can be argued to be a direct breach of the Convention by Japan. The World Organisation Against Torture and Asia-Japan

 

Women’s Resource Center released a report called: Violations of Women’s Rights in Japan, Alternative Report to the United Nations Committee Against Torture. This report stated that victims are made “uncomfortable” and are “humiliated” by the behaviour and treatment of law enforcement officers and that these agents “remain unable to pay attention to victims” emotional needs”. The report goes on to say that training for law enforcement officers is needed to not only better support victims, but also decrease the burden of proof on them.

 

Reality in Japan

Japanese criminal law states that to prove rape there has to be proof of intimidation or violence, but coercion can take place through the absence of violence so it remains unclear if lack of consent aids in proving rape. Since any form of sexual assault can be and is considered torture, cases – such as the father assaulting his daughter – are required by the law to be considered torture and therefore require legal action; however, due to the specific wording in the penal code, many offenders go free without imprisonment or jurisdictional consequences. According to the Ministry of Justice figures, on average, more than half of accused assaulters who are arrested, later get their charges dropped by prosecutors. A poll done in 2019 asked 1,344 Japanese men and women “Do you think that Japan is too forgiving of sex offenders?” of which 86.5% said “yes”.

 

Author Hernon for Tokyoweekender stated that as the prison sentence for rape is less than for robbery, this can be seen as unreasonable considering that rape is regarded as a form of torture. Rape victim, Catherine Jane Fisher, stated that the police made her reenact her rape while the officers were laughing. She considered this “horrific” and described it as being struck by two swords. First with the rape, and second with the treatment she received by police and criminal courts.Having to reenact a traumatic event inflicts psychological torture.

As sex crimes against women continue to occur, and the involvement of law enforcement in aiding those victims remains low, more and more women are joining together to fight against the horrific treatment they have received, seen, heard about, or are in opposition of. In 2019, the social movement, “Flower Demo” kicked off with women participating in events to protest against sex crimes and sexual violence. Since their inception, an increasing number of women continue to join them. On International Women’s Day 2020, their events were held in 33 prefectures, gaining increasing amounts of attention for the issue of sexual violence. The event helps unify women who have been treated unjustifiably for sexual crimes done against them.

In order to find a resolution to the fight for human rights for women, it is essential that Japan revise their legislation and take into consideration the recommendations given to them by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women and the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women. It is the State’s responsibility to ensure that all citizens receive equal rights, opportunities, and protection. The government should devote more time to guarantee that women are protected against sexual violence.



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Kenza Mena
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Kenza Mena has expertise in international criminal law since she is currently pursuing a last-year Master’s degree in International Criminal Justice at Paris II Panthéon-Assas and obtained with honors cum laude an LLM in International and Transnational Criminal Law from the University of Amsterdam. She also holds a Bachelor’s degree in French and Anglo-American law. 

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