An unfortunate and all-too-common reality for people around the globe is assault. Regardless of the form it takes, it has lasting repercussions for its victims, often causing them to doubt the validity of what they have experienced and affecting their relationships long into the future.
Thanks to the #MeToo movement, many people have found the courage to speak up about the abuse they have suffered, and, perhaps more importantly, recognize it for what it is – something which has led to the widespread condemnation of this unacceptable behavior.
However, there are people who are still struggling to have their voices heard, including members of the LGBTQ+ community and, as has recently emerged, Japanese women, who have been systematically conditioned into accepting sexual abuse as part of their day-to-day lives.
Japanese journalist Shiori Ito explains the abhorrent treatment she received when she reported her abuser:
Japan has one of the lowest rates of sexual assault on the planet. To the uninformed, this could suggest that it is not a problem, but it is simply a reflection of a culture of silence where 27% of people believe that accepting a drink from someone equates to sexual consent.
Unlike in most other parts of the world, rape is a standard genre of mainstream Japanese pornography, and this has had the disturbing effect of causing some Japanese women to mimic the actions of being raped in an attempt to please their partners sexually.
The law in Japan is inherently against victims of sexual abuse too. For a predator to be charged, their victim must be able to prove that “violence and intimidation” was used to coerce them into the act, which is almost impossible to do.
This was reflected by the abuse 28-year-old Shiori Ito received when she reported the man who had raped her. She was accused of lying, and because the man who raped her worked in the same profession as her (journalism), she was accused of trying to create a publicity stunt.
Even those who believed that prominent journalist, Noriyuki Yamaguchi, had raped Shiori, they blamed her for putting herself in the position to be abused because she agreed to have dinner with him when the incident took place after a meal at a sushi restaurant in 2015.
Japan is an inherently patriarchal society, and Shiori’s decision to go public with her case sent shockwaves throughout the country.
Unlike in other countries, the 28-year-old was not praised for having the courage to call out her abuser, instead, she was criticized by both men and even other women – the latter of whom have adopted the approach that it is better to try and forget assault than report it.
Mari Miura, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo, had this to say about the problem:
“Japan lacks such a sisterhood. It’s an exhausting and intimidating process… It’s quite natural that victims feel reluctant to speak up.”
Shiori went public with her rape last year after authorities failed to persecute her abuser because of Japan’s abhorrent rape laws. She did so in the hope that speaking out would incite societal change that would make it harder for people to get away with abusing people in this way.
To shed light on the problem, Shiori wrote a book about her experience, Blackbox, which was released in October 2017 when the Harvey Weinstein scandal sent shockwaves around the Western world. Despite her good intentions, it only inspired a few women in Japan.
“Many people think Shiori’s problem has nothing to do with them … and that’s why #MeToo isn’t growing in Japan,” said lawyer Yukiko Tsunoda, an expert on sex crimes, adding that Japanese women who have been assaulted are usually referred to as “the flawed”.
Shiori explained that the country’s attitude towards sexual assault meant that when she was first abused at the age of 10 at a swimming pool in Toyko, she was told by her own mother that it was her fault for wearing a “cute bikini” – a comment which is unthinkable to most of us.
A 2015 government survey in Japan found that two-thirds of rape victims did not tell anyone that they had been abused, and only four percent reported them to the police. Horrifyingly, it also found that one in 15 Japanese women have been raped.
The country tried 1,678 people tried for sexual assault last year, and just 17 percent were given a three years or longer prison sentence.
In Japan, it is commonplace for women to be groped when traveling on public transport.
Shiori was assaulted after becoming unwell at the restaurant she visited with Yamaguchi. Instead of calling her a cab and making sure that she got home safely, he carried her to his hotel room unconscious and raped her. When she came around, she realized what had happened to her.
However, this was just the beginning of Shiori’s ordeal. The next day, she went to a women’s center and they were unable to provide her with the information she needed on rape. She then called up a rape victim support center who refused to give her this information on the phone.
After going to the police, Shiori was repeatedly asked to explain what had happened and was even forced to demonstrate it with a life-sized doll.
It then took three weeks for an investigation into Yamaguchi’s actions to begin. When the case was dropped, Shiori asked for a court-appointed citizens’ panel to review although and they too decided not to persecute her rapist in September of last year.
Yamaguchi denied all wrongdoing in articles he published on Facebook.
Knowing that she was never going to get traditional justice, Shiori said:
“I thought about how I could change the situation, and I had no choice but to speak out about my experience.”
We hope that Shiori decision to speak out helps other Japanese women to do the same thing. A rape culture should not exist in the modern world.