Against the backdrop of a global movement for gender equality, guest contributor Abbianca Makoni explores the revisions of Japan's rape laws and how there is still plenty more to be done.
Protestors and #MeToo activists are campaigning for a review and reform of Japan’s sexual assault laws, as they believe they’re not sufficient for the realities and injuries of victims.
The issue of sexual harassment has been growing in the country with victims, charities and experts voicing their frustrations on the number of acquitted cases taking place.
A recent series of court rulings on sex crimes that cleared the alleged offenders has raised questions on the current Penal Code Article 177, which defines the charge of rape.
In a March ruling by the Okazaki branch of the Nagoya District Court, a man in Aichi Prefecture accused of sexually assaulting his 19-year-old daughter in 2017 was found not guilty because, even though the intercourse was against the daughter’s will, it could not be proven that it was impossible for her to resist - which is a required under Article 177 for sexual assault.
The law was revised in 2017 but campaigners believe the changes were not sufficient for the impact these incidents have on victims.
Article 177 states the lack of a victim’s consent to intercourse alone does not establish the crime of forced or quasi-forced sexual intercourse. It needs to be proven that the victim suffered violence or threat by the offender that made it extremely difficult to resist the intercourse. In court, it is often contested how strongly the victim resisted and once proven the offender receives a minimum sentence of five years.
Human Rights Now, a Tokyo based international human rights advocacy NGO, Voice up Japan a student founded organisation that encourages women to speak out, and Spring Voice, an organisation that started in 2017 to raise public awareness about sexual violence and to fight for legal reform of sexual violence law are currently petitioning for a legal review and reform for the law on sexual violence to be held in 2020
Spring Voice believe there are fundamental flaws in the law, which dates back to 1907, stating in some cases victims are unable to resist because they’re too shaken or have frozen at the scene.
The Article means even if a victim did not consent to intercourse the perpetrator cannot be charged without providing the existence of sufficient assault or threats.
Another aspect of the Article they’re protesting against is the statute of limitation which states after 10 years you cannot report your perpetrator or forced sex crimes and forced obscenity victims are given seven years to come forward.
In many cases where we’ve seen through the #MeToo movement that women and men come forward with their abuse stories after many years – some being years later and others decades on.
Spring Voice has questioned whether or not this is truly fair for victims to be given such a time limit when a number of factors such as social isolation, fear, guilt or mental health issues can stop victims from coming forward sooner.
In a 2017 study conducted by Japan’s Cabinet Office into women and men victims of sexual violence it found 7.8% of women and 1.5% of men have experienced forced sex without consent.
But according to the Japanese National Police Agency, the number of rape crimes recognised in 2018 are 1307 and the number of actual prosecutions reaching only 32.7%.
Author: Abbianca Makoni
Abbianca is a junior social affairs and foreign multimedia journalist, as seen on the BBC, the Independent and the Evening Standard focusing on gender, knife crime and migration.