A ruling Japanese lawmaker was forced to apologize yesterday after sparking outrage by saying perpetrators of gang rape were "vigorous" and "close to normal."
Seiichi Ota, a Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker and former Cabinet minister, made the remarks during a debate among politicians on Japan's declining birth rate on Thursday.
"Gang rape shows the people who do it are still vigorous, and that is OK. I think that might make them close to normal," domestic media quoted Ota as saying in reference to the recent arrest of five university students for alleged gang rape.
Ota quickly came under fire from opposition and ruling party members alike, although experts said his comments reflected a propensity in Japan to treat rapists leniently.
A group representing all female lawmakers of opposition parties demanded in a letter to Ota that he formally apologize to all women, although they stopped short of demanding he resign.
"It must be said that this shows disdain for and is an insult to victimized women and to all women, and cannot possibly be forgiven," the lawmakers said in the letter given to an aide of Ota.
"The comments by Seiichi Ota ... are truly awful, showing too much ignorance of suffering from sexual violence and too much insensibility," Mizuho Fukushima, secretary general of the opposition Social Democratic Party and member of the group, told reporters.
Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi joined the criticism.
"It is natural that he be criticized. Rape is an unforgiveable, contemptible act. It's different from whether one is vigorous or not," Koizumi told reporters.
The incident came just days after a senior official of Japan's Communist Party resigned after admitting to sexually harassing a woman.
Ota was reprimanded by LDP secretary-general Taku Yamasaki and apologized for his remarks.
"I think the fact that such comments were reported made victims ... and many women feel unpleasant, so I want to reconsider and express my apologies," he said.
Ota said he thought rape was a serious crime and wanted to make efforts so it would be punished more strictly.
Two years in prison is the minimum sentence for rape in Japan and 15 years the maximum, but it is rare for a sentence to be over five years.
Yasuyuki Takai, vice chairman of the Japan Federation of Bar Association's committee on victim support, said he thought Ota's comments showed that Japanese society was too accepting of rape.