February 5th – 11th marks Sexual Abuse and Violence Awareness Week. This a time to amplify the message #ItsNotOk, to address persistent myths surrounding this topic.
A study1 released by the Crown Prosecution Service in the United Kingdom on January 26th, 2024, revealed that while progress has been made in addressing attitudes to common false beliefs about rape and consent, there is still significant work to do, particularly among younger people. In Japan, studies have found similar attitudes and a culture of silence around this issue, with a tiny minority of victim-survivors reporting the crimes they have been forced to endure to the police or other support services2.
5 myths about sexual violence
Victim-survivors bear some responsibility for sexual violence, especially if they have been doing things such as drinking alcohol; wearing revealing clothing; being alone in public spaces after dark; participating in sexting, etc.
If you have been raped or assaulted, it is common to feel responsible, at least in part, for what happened. “What ifs” can mushroom in our minds. What if I hadn’t been drinking? What if I had left earlier, then I wouldn’t have been on that train? What if I had dressed differently? Not smiled at them? Been nicer about the way the relationship ended? What if I had never slept with them or accepted a drink from them?
While these feelings of responsibility may seem to make sense,(if there is something I could have done differently, then maybe I can stop this from happening to me ever again – a world where we feel we have no control over what is done to us can be terrifying) and may even be something the perpetrator told you at the time or since the rape/assault, we want to say clearly that the only people responsible for sexual violence are the perpetrators. No one has the right to decide what happens to your body except you. Whatever you were wearing, wherever you were, however, the relationship/your interaction with this person was in the past, are all irrelevant. If you did not consent to their touching you/kissing you/having sex with you, then that is not okay and it was their choice to override your choices and bodily autonomy. It is a crime.
It’s not really rape if the victim-survivor did not fight back.
We hear a lot about fight or flight reactions and may expect that we should react in one of these 2 ways to stressful or unsafe situations. However, the reality of the situation is more complicated. Rather than just fight or flight, there are other possible reactions when faced with stress: freeze3 (going still, tense and silent) and fawn (seeming to comply, possibly placating, negotiating or pleading). None of these responses confers consent.
While we may feel we should have been able to conjure superhuman strength to either fend off a perpetrator or escape from them, and thus feel shame that we froze or even seemed to comply, we are not in control of these physiological responses and definitely don’t get to choose how we respond at the moment. These responses are automatic body responses and our bodies and brains’ way of trying to ensure our survival. Judging yourself or others for an automatic trauma response is unfair and doesn’t make the sexual violence any more consensual or any less real.
Most rapes and assaults are perpetrated by strangers.
Studies consistently show that the vast majority of sexual violence is committed by someone known to the victim, (8 out of 10 rapes4). 1 in 2 rapes against women are carried out by their current or ex-partner5. It is hard and scary to think about these statistics. The media portray the idea that sexual violence is perpetrated by randomly violent opportunistic strangers but the reality is very different. One reason why it can be so hard to report, so hard to believe, is that these crimes are typically perpetrated in private, away from other witnesses, with the vast majority of sexual violence happening in the home. The issue often is not proving whether the sexual contact happened or not, but rather whether it was consensual or not.
There is a “correct” way victim-survivors should act following sexual violence.
Just like there is no one single way we feel about so-called happy events in our lives, like birthdays, holidays, weddings, being offered a promotion, etc., there is no one way that all victim-survivors will respond to being subjected to sexual violence. Our emotions are not something we control. Just because you might think you would react in a particular way if you had this experience, this does not make your reaction universal. A victim-survivor could be tearful, angry, withdrawn, unreactive, or seemingly disconnected. They could be nervous, furious, compliant, silent. However they are responding, there is no right or wrong. There are no shoulds or shouldn’ts. Victim-survivors may be hypervigilant, hypersexual or non-sexual. They may want to go to the police or they may not want to tell anyone about this ever again. It is not our business to judge. It is not for us to decide what is appropriate. Rather we can be there to support survivors, hear what they want from us, and believe them. We are not there to act as detectives or ask intrusive questions. If someone discloses to you their personal experience of sexual violence, honour that disclosure and follow their lead with how they want to proceed. You may have your own views or opinions about what they should do, likely you will have your feelings about what they have been through, but that is for you to manage. Do not add additional burdens to victim-survivors to have to care for you in that moment.
Being in an intimate relationship or marriage means that consent to sexual activity can be assumed.
Whether you have been in a relationship with someone for 5 minutes or 50 years, there should be no assumptions about consent. Consent to any kind of sexual interaction is necessary every single time. Silence should also not be deemed to be consent. Anything other than an enthusiastic yes is something to confirm.
Increasing knowledge and awareness about the reality of these crimes and the considerable blame that is placed upon victim-survivors allows us to change the conversation around this topic. One of our aims is to create an environment where victim-survivors have a true choice about whether they wish to access justice without the fear of stigma that currently exists.
If you have been affected by this article, or you want support with the issue of sexual violence, you can contact:
Anonymous crisis line staffed by trained volunteers.
Saturday 9:00am – Monday 11:00pm (continuous coverage); Tuesday – Thursday 9:00am – 11:00pm; Friday 9:00am – 2:00am
Phone: 03-5774-0992 Chat: https://telljp.com/lifeline/
Hours are split across phone and chat platforms.
TELL Counselling offers services in Tokyo (Omotesando), Okinawa (Mizugama and Sunabe), and virtually anywhere in Japan via Teletherapy.
Confidential face-to-face and video-based counselling is available
Licensed, experienced professional clinicians
Multiple languages (English / 日本語 / 廣東話/ Español / Portuguese / Urdu / Hindi)
International Mental Health Professionals Japan (IMHPJ)
IMHPJ is an interdisciplinary network of individuals and organisations providing mental health care, therapy and related services to the people of the various nationalities living in Japan. IMHPJ provides an up-to-date database of professional therapists providing services in Japan. FOr more information, please see: https://www.imhpj.org/
Sexual Violence Relief Centres (SARCs)
SARCs are one stop centres available in each prefecture where victim-survivors of recent sexual violence can receive support across a variety of areas, (medical, legal, psychological etc). Support is provided in Japanese, for other languages voice translation devices are used. Calling #8891 will connect you directly with the nearest SARC centre to you. You can find more information here: https://sarc-tokyo.org/english
In an emergency, the police can be reached by calling 110. If you have an inquiry but there is not an immediate risk to your safety, then you can call #9110.
1 CPS and Equally Ours: Research into the public understanding of Rape and Serious Sexual Offences (RASSO) and consent
3 Machiko Osawa, The Asia-Pacific Journal, Volume 21 | Issue 11 | Number 5 | Article ID 5808 | Nov 03, 2023
5 Rape Crisis England and Wales