Victims finally learning to speak out against Japan’s outdated rape laws
The car slowly pulls beside a deserted parking lot. The police officer turns to the woman, asking about the point where “it” happened. She looks up in an incredulous state, struggling to believe that the very people who are supposed to protect her are the same ones who have taken her back to this horrible place — the place that, no matter how hard she tries to forget, is scorched into her memory.
It is here, in this parking lot near the Yokosuka U.S. Navy Base, where “Jane” became a rape victim. Yet, as horrible as the crime was, it is Jane’s efforts to seek help and, later, justice, that has monumentally changed the course of her life.
For the last six years, Jane has been fighting to change the way Japan deals with its rape victims. She has recently broken her media silence and, in the past several months, held numerous press conferences and spoken before crowds of thousands of activists. Yet until Japan’s century-old laws are changed and the support network for victims improves, women like Jane will be forced to watch their attackers walk free while enduring what amounts to a second assault by the criminal justice system.
Much of what happened on April 6, 2002, remains a blur to Jane. The Australia native, in her late 30s, was waiting for her boyfriend in a bar in Yokosuka, near the American military base. The next thing she recalls is snapping out of a daze, in her car, as a man sexually assaulted her. After the brutal assault, the stranger walked off and Jane staggered out of the vehicle looking for help.
But the nightmare was, in a sense, just beginning. Jane’s first move was to report the assault to the office of the Yokosuka Military Police. Because it occurred outside of the base, the Kanagawa prefectural police were called in. When they arrived, Jane was questioned in the base’s front security office before being taken back to the scene of the crime, and eventually to Kanagawa police station for more questioning in a room filled with male officers. Though she repeatedly asked to be taken to a hospital, all her requests were denied. “I was informed that on-duty doctors are for urgent patients — and rape victims are not urgent,” Jane recalls.
Instead of calling for a doctor or a counselor, the officers interrogated Jane for several hours. Unbelievably, they asked her to point out where on her body she was injured. Jane needed to go to the bathroom but didn’t want to destroy any evidence — she was wearing no underwear and still had traces of the rapist’s sperm on her body — so she decided to wait until she could get to the hospital for testing. She also suspects she was drugged, but because the police did not perform any blood tests, she can’t say for sure.
“After the questioning, I was not immediately permitted to get a medical exam, but was instead taken back to the scene of the crime,” she explains. Less than a week later, she was asked to return again to the parking lot to re-enact the exact positions that she was put in for a police photographer. Unable to bring herself to do this, she gave directions to a male and female police officer as they entwined their bodies.
The Kanagawa police found Jane’s attacker that same night. U.S. Navy Serviceman Bloke T Deans, who was in his 30s, was taken to Kanagawa Police Station for questioning and released. For reasons that are still unclear, they declined to file criminal charges. This is hardly uncommon: in 2006, the most recent year for which figures are available, 1,948 rapes were reported in Japan, but only 1,058 perpetrators were arrested.
After the police failed to bring criminal charges against Deans, Jane filed a civil suit against him. But then the affair took another heartbreaking turn. In August 2003, the day before the case was to be heard in the Tokyo District Court, Deans’ lawyer resigned, claiming he was “unable to find” his client. “The U.S. Navy later told me that Deans was discharged from the USS Kitty Hawk in November 2002,” Jane says. “We have been unable to track him down.” In November 2004, Jane won her civil court case against Deans, and was awarded 3 million yen compensation. But three and a half years on, she has yet to receive any of the money. Deans remains a free man.
Unfortunately, Jane’s ordeal is hardly an isolated case. Japan’s official rape figures paint only a small part of a larger, sadder picture. The National Police Agency’s annual report shows the number of reported rapes began rising in 1997. In 2003 that number hit a high of 2,472, and since has slowly decreased.
Only 11% of sexual crimes reported
A 2000 study by the Justice Ministry Research Group, meanwhile, showed that only about 11% of sexual crimes committed in Japan were reported. The Tokyo Rape Crisis Center believes the situation may be even worse. “It has been said that there are 10-20 hidden victims for every one that we know about,” says spokewoman Naomi Tjima. “In Japan, rape is a crime that requires a ‘formal complaint’ by a victim. Many cases end up in the settlement out of court, and rapists go free.”
In 2006, Japan’s Gender Equality Bureau released a study titled “Violence Between Men and Women.” Of the 1,578 female respondents, 7.2% said they had been raped “at least once.” Sixty-seven percent of these rapes were perpetrated by someone the victim “knew well,” and 19% by someone they had “seen before.” Only 5.3% of the victims reported the crime to the police — around 6 people out of 114 cases. Of those who remained silent, nearly 40% said they didn’t step forward because they were “embarrassed.”
A Reuters report from May 2007 sheds further light on the situation. “Activists and lawyers say that sentiment toward rape victims remains chilly in a society where many feel the woman may have led the man on, she is lying, or that she could have fought back,” the article says, and goes on to explain that common “rape myths,” which have long been discounted by experts in other countries, still exist in Japan. “Contrary to the law, there is still a widespread belief that only assaults by strangers can be defined as rape.”
“There is no Rape Shield Law like in the United States and Canada, which protects victims from insensitive questions,” explains Hisako Motoyama, Executive Director of the Asia Japan Women’s Resource Center (AJWRC), a gender equality advocacy group founded in 1977. “Victims may even be asked, ‘Why didn’t you fight harder?’”
Victim asked how many people she had slept with
Facing cultural stigmas and insensitive police, it is little surprise that victims seek help from their friends rather than the law. Jane describes a recent rape trial she attended in Tokyo, during which the plaintiff, who prefers to remain unnamed, was asked questions like “How many people have you slept with?” and “Were you good at sports in school?”
The issue of rape in Japan was brought to light last year at the 38th session of The United Nations Committee Against Torture (CAT) in Geneva. The mission of the 10-person international committee is to monitor compliance with a human rights protocol to which Japan became a signatory in 1999.
After reviewing a report compiled by AJWRC and The World Organization Against Torture called “Violations of Women’s Rights in Japan,” the panel recommended that there should be “better protection and appropriate care for such [Japanese] victims.” They also showed concern that “efforts by officials were too focused on the crime and criminal, while ignoring the victim’s needs in aftermath of the often traumatizing ordeals they have been through.”
On March 23, Jane shared her story with 6,000 people in Okinawa at a rally against the American military’s presence in Japan. The gathering was sparked by the February case of 38-year-old American Marine Sgt Tyrone Luther Hadnott, who was accused of raping a local 14-year-old. The charges were dropped when the girl and her family pleaded for privacy.
Indeed, the local support system — especially for foreign women — is woefully inadequate. There are only two rape crisis centers in Japan, located in Tokyo and Okinawa. With limited funding, the Tokyo Rape Crisis Center only accepts calls for three hours, two days a week. Operators speak Japanese only.
Groups like the AJWRC, meanwhile, are fighting for the rights of women. “The current system for dealing with rape victims has fundamental flaws,” says Motoyama. “The criminal law was enacted 100 years ago, and there have been very few changes since.”
In May 2000 the Law for the Protection of Victims of Crime was enacted. This law improved some measures of victim support and protection, as well as allowing rape victims a time frame of ten years to make a formal complaint to the police. Although this was a step in the right direction, there is still a long way to go.
The AJWRC has seen little progress in its three decades of operation, and it has had to endure constant pressure from groups who claim it is destroying family values by raising awareness of gender issues. The center regularly receives threatening calls and emails.
Because of the treatment she received on the night she was raped, Jane filed a lawsuit against the Kanagawa Police Department. Among the evidence she presented were X-rays and medical documents showing that the official police reports contained gross inconsistencies. But in December 2007, the Tokyo District Court — the same court that found Deans guilty — ruled against her. The presiding judge said the police had acted within the law and fulfilled their responsibilities to the victim. Jane is appealing the decision.
“The records, with clear dates and time on them, were deemed ‘unreliable,’ and the statements of the policemen were accepted over the evidence,” Jane says. “By ignoring hard evidence and siding with the police, the court is basically putting a message out there that rape victims aren’t important.”
Six years on, Jane, who is now in her 40s, continues her fight. Her organization, Warriors Japan, is a support group that seeks to establish Japan’s first 24-hour rape crisis center. In March, 6,000 people gathered in Okinawa to hear Jane speak at a rally prompted by the alleged rape of a local 14-year-old girl by a U.S. serviceman.
“I wish I had never called the police that day,” she says. “Filing this claim has not made me feel better. But I feel some validation in knowing that I am making a better path for the rape victims who will, unfortunately, come after me.”
Advice for Victims
*Get immediate medical care and document everything. You will need as much evidence as possible. Jane recommends going to the hospital before the police, as she was not allowed to receive medical attention until after hours of questioning.
*Inform your embassy or consulate. They will often prove to be a great support. If possible, take an embassy officer or friend with you when going to the police to make a complaint.
*Seek guidance from people who have been there. Contact a support group like Warriors Japan (www.myspace.com/warriors_japan) or Lamplighters Japan (www.thelamplighters.org).
Help is at Hand
Asia-Japan Women’s Research Center
To learn more about this gender equality advocacy group, see www.ajwrc.org (Japanese and English).
Tokyo English Life Line
Call 03-5774-0992 for English support daily 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Or see www.telljp.com for more information.
Tokyo Rape Crisis Center
Though English information is available on their website (www.tokyo-rcc.org), counseling services are currently in Japanese only, Wed 6-9 p.m. and Sat 3-6 p.m.
Jane founded this organization in May 2002 with an aim to create a 24-hour rape crisis center. The support group seeks volunteer advocates, translators and interpreters, as well as sponsors and donations. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
This story originally appeared in Metropolis magazine (www.metropolis.co.jp).