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Proposed revision to sex crime law promising but not enough: survivors

The House of Representatives Judicial Affairs Committee unanimously passed a bill to toughen punishments for sex crimes on June 7. While survivors and supporters say the proposed revisions to the Penal Code are promising, they are calling on the government to do more.

    The revisions would raise the minimum prison sentence for rape from three to five years and make sexual assaults prosecutable without a victim's complaint. The bill, however, does not include provisions to lighten the burden of proof that weighs on the victims of sexual assault. For a charge of rape, the existence of violent assault or intimidation to the degree that the victim finds it extremely difficult to resist is still required.

    The necessity of relaxing this condition was pointed out in the committee's discussion, as there are many rape cases that occur even without violence or intimidation of the victim, but simply with fear of the assailant. Reflecting on this, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and its coalition partner Komeito, as well as the opposition Democratic Party (DP), Japanese Communist Party (JCP) and Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) jointly submitted a draft revision to the bill's additional clause stating that further consideration shall be given to measures that would fit the reality of sex crimes once the legislation has been in effect for three years.

    However, the Change Sex Crimes Law Project, made up of four organizations of sexual assault survivors and their supporters, submitted a petition with 30,000 signatures to Minister of Justice Katsutoshi Kaneda on June 7, calling for those revisions to be made earlier, among other requests. The push comes amid hopes for the early passage of reforms in the few remaining days of the current Diet session.

    "Even just eliminating the provision on sex (of the victim) would be a big step forward," said Taketo Kurono, who would welcome a revision to the law that would recognize the notion that victims of sexual assaults are not always female and attackers are not always male. Kurono was sexually assaulted by a female acquaintance when he was in his 20s, and when he called a sexual assault hotline, he was told that they did not know how to handle male victims. This led Kurono to found the self-help group "Ranka" for male survivors of sexual assault. Many male victims are forced to suffer in silence -- a fact that makes Kurono's hope for swift revision to the Penal Code stronger.

    A woman in her 20s in Gunma Prefecture who suffered sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather from the time she was a sixth-grade elementary school student into her second year of junior high school shares Kurono's strong wish for reform. For a crime to be considered rape under the current law, a requirement for violence or intimidation is in place for victims over the age of 13. Eventually the abuse she suffered could not be prosecuted as rape, and her stepfather's actions were instead treated as a violation of the Child Welfare Act, which carried a much lighter punishment.

    A portion of her wish will be fulfilled: The revisions include new provisions for punishing parents or guardians who use their influence to force children under the age of 18 to perform sexual or indent acts. "When you think of the wounds inflicted on the victims that will never heal, the new provision is absolutely necessary," she said.

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