Fri, Mar 02, 2018 - Page 9 News List

In Japan’s patriarchal society, saying ‘Me Too’ can be risky

Women who go public about sexual assault face criticism as opposed to sympathy, even from other women

By Mari Yamaguchi  /  AP, TOKYO

Illustration: Mountain people

Japanese women who say “Me too” do so at their own risk.

Online comments accused Rika Shiiki of lying and being a publicity hound when she tweeted that she lost business contracts after refusing to have sex with clients. Some said that by agreeing to dine with a man, she led him on.

“The comments I received were disproportionately negative,” the 20-year-old university student and entrepreneur told a TV talk show in December last year. “We need to create a society where we can speak up. Otherwise sexual harassment and other misconduct will persist forever.”

The #MeToo movement has not caught on in Japan, where speaking out often draws criticism rather than sympathy, even from other women.

In a patriarchal society where women have long taken the blame, many victims try to forget attacks and harassment instead of seeking support and justice, said Mari Miura, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.

“Japan lacks such a sisterhood,” she said. “It’s an exhausting and intimidating process... It’s quite natural that victims feel reluctant to speak up.”

One woman, journalist Shiori Ito, went public last year. She held a news conference after prosecutors decided not to press charges against a prominent TV newsman whom she had accused of raping her after he invited her to discuss job opportunities over dinner and drinks in 2015.

Many online comments criticized her for speaking out, looking too seductive and ruining the life of a prominent figure. Some women called her an embarrassment, she said.

The release in October last year of Ito’s book Blackbox detailing her ordeal came as the #MeToo phenomenon was making headlines in the US. It prompted some discussion in Japan, but only a handful of other women came forward.

“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.

In Japan, sexually assaulted women are traditionally called “the flawed,” she said.

Nearly three quarters of rape victims said they had never told anyone, and just more than 4 percent had gone to police, according to a 2015 government survey. The study found that one in 15 Japanese women had been raped or forced to have sex.

Victims often shy away from going to court out of fear, privacy concerns or losing jobs, Tsunoda said.

Japanese Ministry of Justice statistics show only one third of rape cases go to court, and punishment is not severe. Of the 1,678 people tried for sexual assault last year, only 17 percent were sentenced to prison for three years or longer.

In November last year, Yokohama prosecutors, without saying why, dropped the case against six students from a leading university who had been arrested for the alleged gang rape of a teenage female student after getting her drunk. The university expelled three of them.

Popular writer Haruka Ito, who goes by the pen name Ha-Chu, was criticized after revealing in December last year that she had faced sexual and other harassment by a senior male employee when both worked at Dentsu, Japan’s largest advertising agency.

The alleged harasser, whom she identified by name, apologized in a statement and quit as head of his own company, although he denied the harassment was sexual.

Haruka Ito said in a statement that she initially tried to endure and forget the ordeal, fearing that exposing it would hurt her image and cause problems for her former colleagues.

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