The pandemic has seen a rise in abuse and sexual violence in many countries, with lockdowns creating a pressure cooker environment where people have been exposed to more ongoing stressors with reduced access to support services in the community.
Official police statistics in Japan, however, suggest that the incidence of sexual violence has been falling, which should be cause for celebration. Many people cite the safety of the country as one of the major advantages of living here. Women, especially, feel freedom in being able to walk pretty much anywhere at any time without having to consider their fundamental safety. However, much like the rest of the world, for those who experience sexual violence, the barriers to reporting are high and falling case numbers do not perhaps tell the whole story.
Sexual violence is often not a black and white crime – not solely a case of whether sexual acts happened but rather whether they happened consensually, or not. In Japan, there can be an additional requirement to prove that the victim was incapable of resistance – an approach that fails to acknowledge trauma responses, such as freezing. This requirement to show evidence of resistance can create additional self-blame, particularly for those who froze or who appeased the assailant, in a biologically understandable response to aim to ensure survival. Additionally, our bodies are capable of automatic sexual responses; erection; or ejaculation, which can create confusion and distress about whether on some level the survivor “liked” what happened to them. Feelings of shame and barriers to reporting lead to a huge number of survivors never telling anyone about their experience, let alone talking to the authorities and pursuing justice for the crimes committed against them.
If you have experienced sexual violence, there are supports available. You can contact the TELL Lifeline, (M-Th 9:00 – 23:00; F-Su 9:00 – 2:00) or visit the website for further information. There are SARC centers (sexual assault relief centers), a minimum of one per prefecture, offering one-stop center support in Japan. These centers can connect you with medical services, (primary care, emergency contraception, STI testing), legal advice, liaise with the police on your behalf, connect you with counseling support, and some centers additionally offer means-tested funds to help cover the costs incurred. [List of SARCs nationwide – in Japanese]
There is a virulent culture of victim-blaming, so please know that what happened was not your fault. Whatever you were wearing, whatever you did, whether you had been drinking alcohol, if you engaged in any sexual acts or intercourse with this person at the time you were assaulted or previously, this does not give the perpetrator the right to invalidate your rights of choice over your body. Active consent is not merely not saying no. Consent is a conversation to be negotiated around each sexual act and every time you engage in sexual activity. It should not be assumed to be present. Ever.
If someone discloses to you that they have experienced sexual violence, here are some ideas of how you can support them:
- Give them space to tell you what they want to say, at their pace. Do not press them to give you details of what they experienced,
- Let them know that you believe them and that what happened was not okay.
- Let them know that they did not deserve this – that what happened was not their fault. There is nothing they could have said or done that makes it okay for someone to have sex with them against their will or sexually assault them
- Respect their decisions and choices. You may have ideas and opinions about whether they should report to the police or what they should do, but those are your ideas. Unless there is an immediate concern for the survivor’s health/safety, it is not your place to override their choices once again.
- Give them control
- Let them know about support services that are available if they are interested. Do not force this information on them.
- Thank them for sharing their story with you.
February 7th – 12th marks Sexual Abuse and Sexual Violence Awareness Week.
SARC (website in multiple languages; phone Japanese only)
English Speaking Police: 03-3501-0110
Tsubomi (in Japanese)
Article was written by TELL’s Lifeline training coordinator, Jane Lofthouse