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'You did nothing wrong': 1st Japanese woman to sue for sexual harassment speaks out

Mayumi Haruno answers questions during an interview with the Mainichi Shimbun, in Fukuoka's Chuo Ward on April 30, 2018. (Mainichi)

FUKUOKA -- The first woman to challenge the legality of sexual harassment in a Japanese court and spread public awareness of the concept itself in 1989 sat down with the Mainichi Shimbun on April 30 to discuss the current Finance Ministry sexual harassment scandal and subsequent victim bashing.

"The situation hasn't changed since 30 years ago," lamented 60-year-old Mayumi Haruno, president of a Fukuoka-based publishing company. Haruno added that she wishes to tell the female reporter from TV Asahi who said she was sexually harassed by former top Finance Ministry bureaucrat Junichi Fukuda, "You were definitely not wrong."

At the time she filed the lawsuit, Haruno was subjected to baseless sexual harassment comments from her superior at the publishing company where she was working, repeatedly being called a "serious temptress," "adulterous," and other inappropriate comments. When she went to a top executive of the publisher, they said they would punish both parties for their feud and ordered her to resign. They even went as far as to tell her, "Remember to properly respect the men at your next place of employment."

Following this, Haruno filed a damage lawsuit against her superiors and the company with the Fukuoka District Court in August 1989 for the repeated sexual harassment and her forcible termination. She claimed that the actions went against respect for individuals and gender equality under the Constitution. In April 1992, the court ruled that they were "illegal actions that disparaged working women," and the publisher and her superiors were ordered to pay 1.65 million yen. While she went through her trial anonymously at the time, Haruno disclosed her identity in 1996. Now, she wants to properly tell her story as Japan's first sexual harassment plaintiff.

"Compared to 30 years ago, people with an awareness of sexual harassment have increased, and even the word for the concept has taken root, but even then, people still say the same things and do the same things about the issue," lamented Haruno. "The woman who called foul is bashed. At its core, no progress has been made on the issue at all."

Recalling her own trial, she said, "When a woman raises her voice after she has become the victim of a sexual crime, the most painful thing is when someone says, 'But you were at fault, too, for being open to it.'" In the middle of all of that, Haruno says she was saved by the words of author Keiko Ochiai to her: "You did nothing wrong."

"Those words gave me strength," Haruno remembered. "Now, I want to pay the favor forward." Of the TV Asahi reporter who accused Fukuda of sexual harassment, she said, "She was probably conflicted because of her work (in the media). But she was courageous for not giving up and quietly accepting it." Haruno has words of encouragement for her: "There may be many kinds of bashing, but don't let that dishearten you."

Additionally, she emphasized, "I think that, like me back then, as a woman, when you are on the receiving end of sexual abuse, you think that 'if I just grin and bear it ...' But if we don't say 'No,' then nothing will ever change. Women's suffrage was accomplished by the women who came before us who raised their voices for the cause. I continue to hold onto hope that things will change in this area as well."

(Japanese original by Tsukimi Goda, Kyushu Head Office News Department)

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