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Japan photojournalist's essay slammed as evading responsibility for alleged sexual violence

An essay penned by photo journalist Ryuichi Hirokawa in the monthly magazine Tsukuru is eight pages long. At the end of the eight pages, it says, "To be continued." There were no words of apology to Hirokawa's victims to be found. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- Following the firing of photo journalist Ryuichi Hirokawa as president of the publisher of the monthly magazine DAYS JAPAN after allegations that he raped and forced female staff and other women to pose nude for photographs, another monthly magazine featured an essay written by him.

Publication of the essay preceded the final issue of DAYS JAPAN that went on sale March 20, in which the magazine printed a highly criticized midterm report by a third-party investigative panel on the scandal. The essay content has former DAYS JAPAN staff and others wondering if Hirokawa is truly regretful for what he has done.

The eight-page essay, titled "'Seiboryoku' ni tsuite shazai shi 30 nen okure de manabu" (I apologize for my sexual violence and learn 30 years late), appeared in the April issue of the monthly magazine Tsukuru that went on sale March 7.

At the outset, Hirokawa states, "I did not understand 'sexual violence.' For reasons such as the fact that I was not physically violent, or that there was consent with the other party, I believed 'sexual violence' had nothing to do with me. ... Until it was pointed out to me that my actions could be interpreted as 'sexual violence,' I absolutely did not understand. I am now at the point where I think I am finally trying to understand. I have written about that process below."

Hirokawa goes on to discuss how he was interviewed by the Shukan Bunshun weekly magazine that broke the story, and the situation and his state of mind following the publication of the articles, mostly in chronological order. As for the first time he saw the article in Shukan Bunshun, he writes, "My mind went blank. In my heart, I kept repeating, 'There's no way, there's no way.'"

In summary, what Hirokawa argues in his essay is this: When he was interviewed by Shukan Bunshun, he was of the understanding that he had engaged in consensual sex. After the magazine reports went public, he lost both his social standing and career, and his family's privacy was violated. He was unable to remember a lot of things, so there were discrepancies between what he had been accused of and what he remembered, and because he did not use physical force and the other parties did not resist, he could not abide having his actions discussed along the same lines as rape. However, upon subsequently reading books about sexual violence and harassment, he came to know that due to his position and the power imbalance between him and the women, the other parties may not have been able to resist his overtures, and that there was such a thing as "threatening non-physical violence." He added that he learned about the feelings of victims who reluctantly went along with his propositions and the impacts of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

He ends what is believed to be the first installation of his essay with the following: "I have come to the conclusion that I want to apologize to the women after having reconsidered my actions thus far and confirmed the facts."

The cover of the April issue of monthly magazine Tsukuru, in which Hirokawa wrote an essay about the allegations made against him of sexual harassment and violence. (Mainichi)

Hirokawa's essay has triggered strong criticism from his victims and former staff.

Chika Miyata, a former DAYS JAPAN employee who previously told the Mainichi Shimbun about the harassment she claimed she suffered at the hands of Hirokawa and the horrendous labor conditions at the magazine, gave the following statement to the Mainichi about Hirokawa's essay:

"The essay does not address the lives and dignity of the people whom (Mr. Hirokawa) victimized, and makes no mention of the labor conditions at DAYS, including his own workplace harassment, and the blatant sexual violence that was reported in the second article by Shukan Bunshun (magazine). He reduced the matter to his subjective view on whether there was consent, and can only be said to be trying to avoid taking social and moral responsibility. Women who have been sexually abused still carry with them emotions that can be stirred up at any moment and that cannot be put into words. There must also be many people who blamed themselves after quitting from DAYS due to its harsh working conditions and the harassment they experienced there, and had their future dreams and everyday lives ripped away from them. If Mr. Hirokawa truly faced those facts squarely, he would be unable to utter the word 'consent.'"

Another former DAYS JAPAN employee told the Mainichi, "(Hirokawa) has repeated the excuse that he 'didn't know how the other person felt.' It shows that he doesn't feel any remorse for acts that were clearly attacks." They went on to point out, "The fact that his misconduct took place repeatedly for years, that it did not come to light for years, how the staff had so much unpaid overtime and long work hours, and that workplace harassment went unchallenged -- the root of all these problems is the same. Mr. Hirokawa and those close to him had a propensity to suppress inconvenient truths for the sake of his fame and power." As for the essay published in Tsukuru, they said, "Publishing a perpetrator's one-sided essay is liable to cause secondary harm to victims."

Tsukuru Editor-in-Chief Hiroyuki Shinoda told the Mainichi that he was not defending Hirokawa. But he also said, "I wouldn't publish an essay if (Mr. Hirokawa) was saying that he'd done nothing wrong. Instead, he had the intention of reflecting and apologizing. Is the appropriate way to handle the situation to say, 'Don't publish or put out any statements?' Rather, as someone who inhabited the world of discourse, I thought he had a duty to let people know what he thought of his misconduct."

As for the fact that Tsukuru did not feature any of the victims' voices, Shinoda said, "Voices of the victims have already been reported by other media, and (publication of the Hirokawa essay) is based on that presupposition." Further explaining why he featured the essay in Tsukuru, Shinoda remarked, "The fact that Mr. Hirokawa, who addressed issues such as sexual violence and other human rights issues in DAYS has been accused of sexual violence himself, must be taken seriously. I wanted to provide more material for debate."

Hirokawa's essay in Tsukuru ends with the expression, "To be continued," but according to Shinoda, the contents of the May issue, set to go on sale April 7, are still up in the air. "I am aware that there is criticism out there that the remorse expressed in the essay that's already been released is 'insufficient,'" Shinoda said. "Mr. Hirokawa himself is still in the process of getting his thoughts together. We'll decide how to handle things based on reactions to (the previous essay) and the investigative report put together by DAYS."

Psychiatric social worker and social welfare counselor Akiyoshi Saito, who has long been involved in treating sex offenders, said of Hirokawa's essay, "It exhibits the perpetrator's twisted perception. The apology comes from the perpetrator's desire to apologize and feel better, and can lead to the 'second rape' of his victims."

Referring to the repeated use by Hirokawa of such phrases as he "couldn't remember" or that he "lost his career," Saito said, "They indicate the 'typical victim mentality of perpetrators.'" He also pointed out that the essay "runs the risk of making victims wonder if they were at least partially at fault." He added, "(Mr. Hirokawa) does not accept responsibility for his own actions. He hasn't even gotten past the step before apology."

Furthermore, according to Saito, victims of sexual violence can suffer from aftereffects for years. "The victim's mentality is that the perpetrator should take responsibility and apologize not just for the attack itself, but also for the pain that follows. What the perpetrator must do is rid themselves of all hope of being forgiven, and think about how they can keep on apologizing. Mr. Hirokawa's essay, on the contrary, presupposes that forgiveness will be given for his apology. That's why the perpetrator's victim mentality and his internal conflict over why he isn't being forgiven are transparent to the reader."

Hirokawa wrote in his essay that he learned from reading books on sexual harassment and sex crimes. Saito warned that this was not a sign of rehabilitation. "We must not have any illusions. When, in my treatment of sex offenders, I am told, 'I've changed so much thanks to you,' I take it as a dangerous sign. It's a very ingenious way of distracting others from one's responsibility."

He continued, "This essay has the same sort of superficial touch of apologies that get submitted to the courts by the defense attorneys of sex offenders. This is not a problem unique to Mr. Hirokawa. Why do people commit sexual violence? How can one defend one's act of violence? It's because the values of male chauvinism are ingrained, however unconsciously, in society. We must once again bring into question the values of a society that justifies sexual violence."

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

This is Part 2 in a series.

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