Domestic violence comes to the fore in Japan

10/16/2012
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Domestic violence in Japan is not a new phenomenon, but it is only recently that such incidents are discussed publicly, and victims bring their problems to the attention of the authorities.

TOKYO (majirox news) — The number of reported incidents of domestic violence is rising, and while this does not necessarily reflect a growth in the number of such incidents, it shows a greater willingness to discuss a previously taboo subject.

Sachiko Yoshizaki’s childhood dream was to be happily married with children. But her marriage soon turned into a nightmare. She spoke as a survivor of domestic violence.

“I called the police after my husband beat me with a portable fax machine,” said Yoshizaki, now a counselor for victims of domestic violence. “One month later the police showed me a photo of my body, and I was shocked. I was bloody and bruised. It took me more than a month to heal. I also needed to protect my teenage son, because my husband had started to beat him as well.”

Six years ago, she walked out of the house and never returned home. She took her five children to a shelter for the homeless, since safe houses for battered women didn’t allow teenage boys to stay there. For Sachiko, anything was better than being near her husband.

“He criticized everything I did; the way I talked, my clothes, cooking, just everything,” Yoshizaki said. “He made me stay awake all night on the weekends. I had to sit on the floor kneeling while he lectured me. Then I had to write down my faults and hang up what I had written for everyone to see. I didn’t have any self-esteem left.”

She now lives in her own apartment and works as a counselor with a group helping women victims of domestic violence. The group, Aware, based in Tokyo, educates Japanese women and teenagers about domestic violence (they use the term “DV”) against women. They learn self-esteem, and to make decisions and about gender equality, and are also taught that physical violence and mental abuse is unacceptable.

Many more Japanese victims of domestic violence are now prepared to discuss this problem. The first six months of 2012 saw a 46 percent rise in the number of reported cases. Of these, 94 percent of the victims were women. Traditionally, what happened inside the home stayed inside the home and there was a taboo about discussing it outside. But now there is a growing realization that the police should be involved in these cases, where some victims suffer post-traumatic stress disorder.

An anonymous sufferer has reported that feels as though she is suffocating when she is in a crowd. Her 14-year-old son has a hard time concentrating in school. She blames traditional Japanese attitudes for part of the problem.

“In the traditional Japanese culture of our parents and grandparents, wives are expected to be submissive and obedient,” she said. “I was beaten by my husband, but when he started on my son, that was the end. I secretly moved out to an apartment with my son. Then I got a restraining order on him, because he was threatening me and my relatives with violence.”

She is now in the process of divorcing her husband. The police patrol her area to make sure her husband stays away from her. But not all victims’ stories have such a satisfactory ending.

According to Sakura Uchikoshi, a lawyer and author of books on domestic violence, “Japanese women who report domestic violence may suffer from degrading treatment from the authorities: police, mediators and even the judges in the cases. Many still stay silent and hesitate to involve the authorities. Some don’t even know they have legal recourse.”

According to government statistics, one in ten Japanese women has suffered from domestic violence at some time. There are moves by the government, legal and medical bodies to improve matters. For example, there is governmental funding for shelters where battered women can escape, find mutual support and realize that they are not alone.

More than 200 shelters exist throughout Japan for victims of domestic violence. Tokyo alone has 117 on nondescript back streets where they will not attract attention.

Following some highly publicized cases of extreme violence, a Japanese law was passed in 2001 making domestic violence a criminal offense. Violations of the law are punishable by fines of
about $10,000 and a year’s imprisonment.

But there is still a problem, as Takateru Hatakeyama, a director of the Gender Equality Bureau at the Cabinet Office, points out. “Japan’s struggling economy also makes it difficult for women dependent on their husbands who are victims of such violence to leave their abusers and become financially independent.”

While there is a big jump in the number of women reporting domestic violence, advocates say Japan still has a long way to go.

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