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Mag criticized for slack investigation into photo journalist's sexual abuse allegations

The final issue of the monthly magazine DAYS JAPAN, which featured an investigative report on allegations of sexual violence against its founder, former president and previous editor-in-chief Ryuichi Hirokawa, a photo journalist. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The monthly magazine DAYS JAPAN, which promised to feature an investigative report in its final issue on allegations that its founder, photo journalist Ryuichi Hirokawa, had sexually violated multiple young women, has received widespread criticism for not getting to the bottom of the problem.

Titled "Responding to media reports of Ryuichi Hirokawa's sexual violence: an investigative panel report," the article comprises the first part of the magazine's final issue that went on sale on March 20. It consists mostly of Hirokawa's answers to questions he was asked by the panel members, and did not include a review of the damage caused, or an examination of the victims' current state.

The report turned out to be a mere "midterm" one, compiled by a three-person panel that was established for the sole purpose of investigating the case: labor journalist Masaomi Kaneko, and attorneys Toshio Ueyanagi and Keiko Ota.

It opened with the explanation that the three panel members were approached by DAYS JAPAN, the company that published the magazine, about its desire to feature an objective investigative report by a third-party on the scandal in its final issue. The panel explained that it had agreed to do the work on the condition that it would be completely independent, and would not be subject to interference from the company. It also said that even after the magazine went defunct, it would continue with its hearings with an aim to release a final report.

"Organizations that denounce discrimination and institutions that champion human rights have repeatedly perpetrated and suppressed sexual harassment and gender discrimination," the investigative panel explained in reference to why it was printing Hirokawa's answers to interview questions. It continued, "We want to question the origins of gender discrimination problems that repeatedly occur by having Mr. Hirokawa's arguments and excuses widely known, and pointing out the limitations to his self-reflection and regret."

This part of the magazine's final issue consists of panel members conducting hearings with Hirokawa, whose responses are printed. To each of Hirokawa's remarks, the panel provides a counter-response. The following is a summarized sample:

Hirokawa: We featured the issue of "violence against women" many times in DAYS JAPAN. I myself was convinced that I was not committing violence or engaging in non-consensual sex. I came to realize that I had been ignoring non-physical violence.

Panel member: Means of force is not an issue of whether physical violence is involved.

Hirokawa: When I was told that I "held power in the world of photo journalism, and used that power and my position to sexually harass women," I had a difficult time understanding what that meant. I barely had such a view of myself.

Panel member: The fact that Mr. Hirokawa acts without recognizing the power that comes with his stature and position is itself a problem.

Hirokawa: I did not have the awareness that a lack of a clear rejection or refusal does not imply consent.

Panel member: Mr. Hirokawa acted heinously, taking advantage of relationships in which the other party could not resist. To continue insisting that the other party "consented" is to cause secondary harm to the victim.

Hirokawa: About 10 days after I went into hiding from the public eye, I was shocked by the ugliness I saw in the mirror. The sight of an old man trying to make advances on a young woman is creepy and pathetic. It was a catalyst for me to start thinking about how I must have looked to others.

Panel member: In sexual harassment cases, perpetrators who twistedly perceive the other party's respect or loyalty as being romantic in nature is common. Mr. Hirokawa must reflect on what caused that twisted perception.

The second part of the magazine's final issue, meanwhile, was edited by freelance journalist Yoshiko Hayashi, and included interviews with and submissions from researchers, civic organizations, media insiders who have been engaged in activity against sexual harassment and violence in an attempt to highlight the backdrop against which sexual violence occurs.

From left, Akihiro Nonaka, Hideharu Tamura, Akiko Kobayashi, Mayumi Taniguchi and Hiroko Goto spoke at a symposium on the issue of former DAYS JAPAN president Ryuichi Hirokawa's alleged sexual violence toward women, at Waseda University in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward, on March 24, 2019. (Mainichi/Satoko Nakagawa)

In response to the last DAYS JAPAN issue, Waseda University's Institute for Journalism held a symposium in Tokyo March 24. On the panel were writer Hideharu Tamura, who broke the story in the weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun; Buzzfeed Japan's chief news editor Akiko Kobayashi; Mayumi Taniguchi, an associate professor at Osaka International University and head of the group No More Harassment in Media; and Chiba University Law School professor Hiroko Goto. Asia Press International's Akihiro Nonaka served as moderator.

"I'd like to wait until the final report (by the investigative committee) comes out, but at this point, the report has not included any verification of the facts or voices from victims. Shouldn't the investigative process be about how we should consider something based on verified facts?" said Tamura. As for Hirokawa's responses to the panel's questions, the writer said, "I think they have some value as data. We can see that because he thinks this way, he caused (these problems). But what also needs to be considered is the possibility that this could be read by his victims, who could be hurt once again by his words."

Meanwhile, Buzzfeed's Kobayashi said, "I think there's significance to making the discrepancy in consciousness apparent between the perpetrator and the victim, but that aim must be thoroughly explained."

No More Harassment in Media head Taniguchi revealed that she had declined a request to contribute to the second half of the magazine's final issue. "I was told that I would not be informed of the interview results with Mr. Hirokawa beforehand, and judged that in that case, there was no way for me to cooperate," she told those in attendance. In addition, she said, "At this point, the process does not constitute an investigation. The information may have value as documentation, but what is freedom of the press for? Is the investigation confronting the damage caused by sexual violence head-on?"

Law professor Goto said of the report, "It gave me no vision of how Mr. Hirokawa or DAYS JAPAN was going to take responsibility." Referring to amendments made to the Penal Code in 2017 regarding sexual violence, she said that despite strong calls to abandon a requirement that a perpetrator must have "used force" or "threatened" a victim to establish sexual assault as rape, it failed to become a reality. "'It's not sexual violence as long as no force was involved' is a typical excuse that perpetrators use. By printing Mr. Hirokawa's argument that he believed that what he was engaging in "was consensual," I fear that perpetrators in similar types of cases will use the same excuse in the future," she said.

Journalist Daisuke Tsuda and Doshisha University professor and expert on feminist thought Yayo Okano, who were in the audience, also contributed to the discussion.

"Men are in a superior position to women in the world of media to begin with, and we'd failed to fully report on the reality of sexual harassment and violence. I regret that the society we've created is an accumulation of that failure. There's a need to take action in order to make the number of men and women even in our respective areas," Tsuda said.

Okano pointed out the legal ramifications -- or the lack thereof -- of Hirokawa's actions. "That Mr. Hirokawa's sexual violence, his actions which deprived free will from his victims both physically and psychologically, had not been tried as crimes, and had been overlooked, should be taken seriously. Society has ignored women's rights and forced women to hesitate about speaking up," she emphasized.

Meanwhile, a group, whose core members are former staff of DAYS JAPAN who left the magazine before the publication of the final issue, has been established. Members of the group say that they will not cooperate with the investigative committee commissioned by the magazine, but will instead collect testimony from victims and former DAYS employees on their own.

According to a statement released by the group, in late February, then DAYS JAPAN employees, including those in the editorial department of the magazine, were forced to quit the company after it commissioned a third-party panel to conduct an investigation into the allegations against Hirokawa. The reason the group is not cooperating with the investigation, it says, is because when several employees asked if there was a possibility of board members censoring testimony given in the investigation, they were told that it was "only natural not to publish information that would be detrimental to the company." The group's statement also says that its members worried that their testimonies could be intentionally altered or covered up. They thus decided to move forward collecting testimonies and offering support to victims themselves.

A former DAYS JAPAN employee told the Mainichi Shimbun, "Mr. Hirokawa's sexual violence and harassment is not a problem about just him as an individual. We must consider the responsibility of the management that for years continued to neglect and hide the appalling working conditions at the company."

(Japanese original by Satoko Nakagawa, General Digital News Center)

This is Part 1 in a series.

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