February marks sexual assault and violence awareness month in a number of countries. With the recent death of Miki Kawado on Jan 16, stabbed to death by her ex-boyfriend on her way home from work despite a restraining order, and the dismissal of five male Ground Self Defense Force members in December for sexual harassment of a female colleague, these are timely reminders of the ongoing issues in Japan.
Globally, even before the pandemic, the World Health Organisation stated that 1 in 3 women will experience physical and/or sexual violence in their lifetime, typically by an intimate partner.
An online survey last year by the Tokyo government of 8941 individuals aged 16-24 reported 23% of the respondents had experienced sexual violence. The most common perpetrators of assault involving sexual intercourse with young people were individuals affiliated with the respondent’s school, followed by partners or former partners. Another 16.8% stated they had been groped, typically on transportation.
Sexual harassment and other forms of violence against women and girls of all ages continue to occur on streets, in public spaces, and online, with the number escalating over the last few years as a result of the pandemic. In 2021, the number of reports to the Japanese police for physical and sexual violence, stalking, and image based abuse (such as revenge porn) all increased to their highest level on record. NPO Colabo supporting young women and teenage girls in the Tokyo area found the number of young women needing housing or financial support in the last few years has increased significantly since the pandemic as many lost their part-time jobs and are unable or don’t feel safe to be at home.
In May 2022, the Japanese government passed a bill that will come into effect in April 2024 to strengthen support for women in poverty, and those experiencing domestic abuse and sexual violence. This new law is aimed at creating a basic policy for women’s welfare and their human rights, which requires prefectures to strengthen connections between local governments, NPOs, and other support groups to help women in need get back on their feet and live independent lives.
Many groups have said further changes are needed as there is still no law criminalizing nonconsensual sex. Under the current Criminal Law, “forcible sexual intercourse” and similar offenses are only recognized if they are committed through “assault or intimidation.” Most survivors of sexual violence do not talk about the abuse with anyone. For many, they feel too ashamed or feel it is pointless and they will not be believed.
While changes in legislation are vital, changes in attitudes are also necessary. Questioning the survivor of an assault about their sexual history, the clothing they were wearing, their relationship to the accused, whether they had been drinking, etc., is indicative of a victim-blaming culture. A lack of coherence in the system and sensitivity when dealing with survivors of these crimes, requiring them to return to the scene of the assault and reenact what happened, for example, leads to secondary traumatization.
Intimate partner violence against women is a global public health problem with many long term effects on women’s mental and physical health. This is even more so the case with sexual violence and the shame associated with it. Women who have experienced sexual violence are twice as likely to experience depression and almost twice as likely to have alcohol use disorders. Many survivors will experience ongoing consequences as a result of the crime, which can include PTSD and an increased risk of suicide, something Japan has seen during the first two years of the pandemic.
Education and awareness are key to breaking the cycle of gender-based violence, and engaging men as allies is as critical as working with women. At TELL, we will continue to make noise about this topic and strive for a world where gender based violence does not occur. Our volunteer support workers are all trained in supporting survivors of sexual violence. Our website has tips on how to speak with a survivor, a list of resources, and support services available in Japan.
Here are some ways you can join with us to make a difference and support survivors.
- You can become a Lifeline Support Worker and help us to extend our hours of operation. We are currently accepting applicants for the Spring training, which runs from Feb 11 to April 23, and our summer training runs from May 27 to Aug 6.
- You can make a donation and become a TELL Hero and help TELL to continue offering our services to the community.
- You can organize a fundraising or awareness event with your friends or workplace to show your support.
You can hold training at your workplace or school to address sexual violence.
Read more about sexual assault and violence awareness, access resources, and find a support on our website by clicking here.