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

After news of Shiori Ito’s case and the #MeToo movement, “I decided to speak out,” she said.

Conformist pressure in Japan discourages women from speaking out or saying “no” to many things, including unwanted sex, said Saori Ikeuchi, a former lawmaker and gender diversity activist.

That mindset has silenced virtually all of Japan’s so-called “comfort women,” who were sexually abused as prostitutes for the wartime military, while Japan has shown little sympathy to victims from Korea and elsewhere, she said.

Shiori Ito said that after she became dizzy and passed out in a restroom, her alleged attacker, Noriyuki Yamaguchi, took her to his hotel room and raped her while she was incapacitated.

The alleged assault was just the beginning of her ordeal, she said. The women’s clinic she visited the next day lacked expertise on rape and a rape victim support center refused to give her advice over the phone.

Police required her to recount the ordeal repeatedly and to demonstrate it with a life-sized doll, she said.

Shiori Ito said it took three weeks to get police to accept her criminal complaint and start investigating.

She held a news conference in May last year, announcing that she had requested a court-appointed citizens’ panel to review the decision to drop the case. The inquest in September agreed with the decision not to indict.

Yamaguchi has denied any wrongdoing in published articles and on Facebook.

Shiori Ito has filed a civil lawsuit against him, demanding ¥10 million (US$93,600) in compensation for her suffering from the alleged rape, and seeking any clues as to why he was let go and never arrested.

“I thought about how I could change the situation, and I had no choice but to speak out about my experience,” she said.

A group of opposition lawmakers has started its own investigation, seeking to find if the charges were dropped because of Yamaguchi’s connections to powerful political officials.

Japanese National Police Agency official Junichiro Kan told lawmakers at a recent hearing that the case was properly handled.

Police say they have tried to be more sensitive to the feelings of victims while guarding against wrongful accusations.

Mika Kobayashi, a rape victim, runs a self-help group that has exchanged thousands of #MeToo experiences, but only anonymously among themselves.

She said she was pushed into a car and raped on her way home in 2000. She reported the attack to police, but the attacker has not been found. She has since published books about her recovery from the ordeal, to raise awareness.

Her focus is on providing support and understanding for victims, rather than being an activist.

“I used to think of myself as someone hiding a big secret, a sex assault victim and unclean,” she said. “I’m so grateful I could connect with fellow victims. They gave me strength.”

The knowledge that others also blamed themselves and lost self-esteem has helped her to heal slowly, Kobayashi said.

“I think it’s also OK not to speak up,” she said. “I respect any decision that makes a victim feel most comfortable.”

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