An 11-point list for reforming Japan’s legal response to sex-assault victims emerged from a weekend meeting of international advocates at a research institute in Tokyo. Barring police from questioning a victim’s sexual history was among them.
Noriko Moriya, a lawyer and victim’s advocate, organized a symposium last weekend with the Tokiwa International Victimology Institute,TIVI, to produce a legal-reform agenda for helping Japanese victims of sexual assault.
An Australian woman who calls herself Jane spoke during the meeting saying she was going public with her account on behalf of other victims.
She alleged she was raped in 2002 by a U.S. soldier of the USS Kitty Hawk in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. After reporting the crime she said she suffered severe secondary victimization at the police station where she sought help and was asked to re-enact parts of the crime. Some in the audience were openly crying as she told her story.
Five women in the audience approached her after she spoke and said they had been raped and that her speaking out gave them the courage to keep fighting for justice.
The 11 recommendations that emerged from the two-day gathering included the prevention of police from questioning a victim about her sexual history and providing victims more latitude and control over legal recourse.
“My first purpose is for victims to start speaking out, so we can create a good movement,” the organizer Moriya said. “Their voices need to be heard and this symposium is a way forward.”
In 2006, Japan’s Gender Equality Bureau found that only 7 percent of 1,578 female respondents said they had been raped at least once. Only about 5 percent of those victims–6 out of 114–reported the crime to the police. Of those who remained silent, nearly 40 percent said they were “embarrassed.”
Moriya said as a result of the symposium, Takeshi Shina, a member of the country’s national legislature and a guest speaker, will submit a draft version of the initiatives to Japan’s national parliament, called The Diet, and its Committee for Revision of the Basic Plan for Crime Victims. The Basic Act on Crime Victims was enacted in 2004, and went into effect as a law in 2005. It’s now up for review.
Shina worked with Moriya on the Committee for Victims of Crime at the Japan Bar Association several years ago.
NHK, Japan Broadcasting Corporation, will soon publicize the recommendations and deal with them on a special program, Moriya said.
She hopes this will be the beginning for victims to wake up, speak out and demand change. “We have just begun, slowly, little by little, we will change.”
TIVI, established in 2003, which conducts international interdisciplinary research and teaching in victimology, aims to do just that. A study by the Institute found sexual assault remains underreported and many don’t report their victimization to the police; consequently prosecution cannot be initiated against the offender.
Moriya also noted that Japan’s system is completely different from countries such as Sweden and the United States.
Panelists and keynote speakers from foreign countries talked about programs that Moriya said were lacking in Japan. Many in the audience of about 140, which included victims lawyers and teachers, were amazed and impressed by the progress of Sweden and the U.S.
Lena Landström, lecturer at Umeå University and ex-Prosecutor of Sweden, praised the alliance between the countries and hoped others learn from each other’s systems.
Harriet Lessel, executive director of the New York City Alliance Against Sexual Assault, spoke about the U.S grassroots movement in the 1970s to help victims and rally support, which was crucial to succeed, and news of its programs. “The health and recovery of the victim is the primary priority.” she said.
Takashi Sugimoto, a high-ranking member of Japan’s National Police agency, who spoke after Lessel, agreed. “I hope this symposium will be a core movement to disseminate information among the public to make them aware of the severity of sexual assault which destroys the victim’s life,” he said.
He added Japan needed more legislation, a bigger budget for investigating and prosecuting sexual crimes, doing more to help victims and promoting more awareness and cooperation among government workers and agencies.
“Japan has seen a tide of sexual assaults,” he said. “Japanese communities used to be closer where grandmothers, mothers and others watched out for each other, including the safety of children.”
Hidemichi Morosawa, Chair of Incorporated Educational Institution of Tokiwa University, said that the laws have hardly changed since Jane was raped. “Everyone needs to work together now and take concrete measures to bring about change.”
In addition to establishing awareness and training programs for judges, prosecutors, police and hospital staff, participants advocated the 11 following legal reforms:
Give victims of sexual assault the right to choose a court-appointed legal representative.
In order to reduce the burden on victims require police to conduct interviews in conjunction with prosecutors, or with the presence of prosecutors during that process.
During investigations, prohibit police from questioning victims about their sexual experiences or making any other inappropriately intrusive inquiries.
Protect victims’ privacy and drop the requirement of a victims’ complaint for prosecution.
Reconsider the name of sexual crimes (e.g., Crime of Sexual Assault) in order to cover not only sexual intercourse but also comparable acts and include males as victims of the crime.
Create a procedure for victims to decide whether the case is treated by the lay judge system.
Enable victims to decide whether the trail is conducted in a open court or in a closed court.
Prohibit the legal representative, judges, or any persons in the trial to ask inappropriate questions.
For victims who are children, begin the statute of limitations for prosecuting an offender at the age of adulthood.
For victims who are 15 years old or younger, create a method for video tapes and or other recordings as a substitute for their appearance in the court room.
Create a compensation system based upon the consideration of specific features of sexual-assault victims such as long-lasting symptoms associated with post-traumatic stress disorder.