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In Japan, Saying ‘Me Too’ Comes With Risks

In this Oct. 27, 2017, photo, Shiori Ito talks about her experience with sexual assault during an interview in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Mari Yamaguchi)
In this Oct. 27, 2017, photo, Shiori Ito talks about her experience with sexual assault during an interview in Tokyo. (AP Photo/Mari Yamaguchi)
In Japan, Saying 'Me Too' Comes With Risks
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In the United States, a movement known as #MeToo has been urging women and men to speak out against sexual abuse, especially in the workplace.

The goal is to end sexual wrongdoing.

But the movement has not been as successful in Japan. Women there who speak out against sexual abuse are more likely to receive criticism than sympathy.

Just ask Rika Shiiki, a 20-year-old university student and business entrepreneur. She wrote on Twitter last year that she had lost business contracts because she refused to have sex with clients.

Most answers she received on Twitter were not kind, she said. Many social media users accused her of lying and seeking publicity. Some said that by agreeing to have dinner with a client, she led him to believe that she was open to having sex.

Shiiki said on a Japanese television show in December: “We need to create a society where we can speak up." Otherwise, she said, sexual harassment and other wrongdoing will continue forever.

Speak up or stay silent?

Japanese society is controlled mostly by men, says Mari Miura. She is a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.

Miura says Japanese women are used to taking the blame. So, she says, instead of seeking justice or support, Japanese sexual abuse victims try to forget the events ever happened.

“Japan lacks such a sisterhood,” she said. Speaking up is tiring and intimidating, Miura notes, so victims naturally fear talking publicly about their abuse.

A recent Japanese government study found that one in 15 Japanese women say they have been raped. However, nearly 75 percent of them had never told anyone. And only four percent said they had reported the attack to police.

Legal experts say the victims may not want to share information that feels private, or to risk losing their jobs. And their cases may not be prosecuted anyway.

Official numbers from Japan’s Justice Ministry show that only one-third of rape cases go to court. For attackers who are found guilty, punishment is rarely severe. Only 17 percent of the people who were tried for sexual assault last year were sent to prison for three years or longer.

Saori Ikeuchi is an activist and former lawmaker. She said Japanese society discourages women from speaking out or saying “no” to many things, including unwanted sex.

She said that mindset silenced nearly all of Japan’s so-called “comfort women,” who were abused as sex workers for the wartime military. Japan has shown little sympathy to victims from Korea and other countries, Ikeuchi added.

Shiori Ito’s story

Last year, reporter Shiori Ito went public with her story of sexual abuse. She said that, in 2015, she was raped by well-known television reporter Noriyuki Yamaguchi. Ito said the attack happened after Yamaguchi invited her to eat dinner and discuss job possibilities.

Many online commenters criticized Ito for speaking out. Some writers wrote that she looked “seductive” and that she ruined Yamaguchi’s life. Some women called her an embarrassment, Ito told the Associated Press.

Yamaguchi has denied any wrongdoing. And local government lawyers decided not to press charges against him.

Later, Ito requested a panel to review the decision to drop the case. The panel said they agreed with the decision not to press charges against Yamaguchi. However, opposition lawmakers are now investigating the events, seeking to find if the charges were dropped because of Yamaguchi’s connection to powerful public officials.

In the meantime, Ito has filed a civil lawsuit against Yamaguchi. And last October, she released a book called “Blackbox.” It included details about the reported rape and the problems she says she faced getting help afterwards.

Ito said that she visited a women’s medical center the day after the attack. Its doctors and workers were not trained to support rape victims, she said. In addition, she said a rape victim support center refused to give her help over the phone. And when she went to the police, officers required her to describe the attack repeatedly and to demonstrate it with a life-sized doll, she said.

Ito’s book release came as the #MeToo movement was making news in America. It led to some discussion in Japan, but only a small number of other women came forward to discuss their experiences of sexual violence.

Yukiko Tsunoda is a lawyer and sex crimes expert. She said that “many people think [Ito’s] problem has nothing to do with them...and that’s why #MeToo isn’t growing in Japan.”

She said women in Japan who are sexually abused are often called “the flawed.”

Support and understanding for victims

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

In this Dec. 25, 2017, photo, Mika Kobayashi speaks during an interview in Tokyo.
In this Dec. 25, 2017, photo, Mika Kobayashi speaks during an interview in Tokyo.

Kobayashi says 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 attack to educate the public.

She says her aim is to provide support and understanding for victims, and not to be 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.”

But she said she understands that some victims may not want to speak up and share their stories.

“I respect any decision that makes a victim feel most comfortable,” Kobayashi said.

I’m Ashley Thompson.

And I'm Caty Weaver.

The Associated Press reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.


Words in This Story

client - n.​ a person who pays a professional person or organization for services

intimidating - adj.​ causing fear

mindset - n. a particular way of thinking : a person's attitude or set of opinions about something

seductive - adj. sexually attractive​

doll - n. a child's toy in the form of a baby or small person​

flawed - adj. having a mistake, fault, or weakness

panel - n. a group of people with special knowledge, skill, or experience who give advice or make decisions

file - v. to give (something, such as an official form or a legal document) to someone in authority so that it can be considered, dealt with, approved, etc.

lawsuit - n. a process by which a court of law makes a decision to end a disagreement between people or organizations

anonymously - adv. not named or identified​

grateful - adj. feeling or showing thanks​

comfortable - adj. not causing any physically unpleasant feelings