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Journalist Shiori Ito victorious in Tokyo court in hard-fought battle over rape case

Shiori Ito speaks to her supporters in front of the Tokyo District Court after the court granted her compensation over a rape case, on Dec. 18, 2019. (Mainichi/Hiroshi Maruyama)

TOKYO -- The long and painful road to have her rape case recognized in court finally came to an end for freelance journalist Shiori Ito, at least for now, after the Tokyo District Court ruled in favor of her claim in a civil lawsuit against a former television broadcast reporter on Dec. 18.

Ito's courageous move to come out publicly as a rape victim has inspired the "#MeToo" movement in Japan, slowly but surely affecting Japanese society that has long been silent about sexual abuse.

It was a hard-fought battle for Ito, who first went public in May 2017 accusing former Tokyo Broadcasting System Washington bureau chief Noriyuki Yamaguchi of raping her. Yamaguchi faced no charges after Ito filed a criminal complaint against him, and the civil lawsuit was her last resort to have her rape case legally recognized.

Shiori Ito holds a sign that reads "victory" in front of the Tokyo District Court following its ruling favoring her claim in the civil trial, on Dec. 18, 2019. (Mainichi/Hiroshi Maruyama)

On the day of the ruling, Ito appeared at the Tokyo District Court dressed in a white blouse and navy blue jacket and directly faced Yamaguchi, who was in a gray suit, across the witness stand. For the first few minutes before the court handed down the ruling when press cameras were rolling, Ito stared straight at Yamaguchi, at one point held a handkerchief to her eyes. She showed her first smile of the day when her supporters gave her a round of applause just outside the court following the ruling that ordered Yamaguchi to pay 3.3 million yen in damages.

The Dec. 18 ruling showed considerations to the status and mental state of a rape victim. While Yamaguchi presented Ito's email about acquiring a work visa, sent after the assault, as evidence to show that the act was consensual, the court concluded that it was "perfectly possible that a person who was forced into nonconsensual sexual acts could behave as they do every day due to being unable to accept what has happened."

After coming out publicly claiming she was a rape victim in May 2017, Ito published a book titled "Black Box" in which she recounted her rape experience. Yamaguchi, who had filed a countersuit against Ito, argued that her actions constituted as defamation. The court rejected his claim and acknowledged Ito's actions by saying that she "went public with her story believing that revealing what went on and encouraging social-wide discussions on the issue would lead to an improvement of legal and social statuses surrounding sexual crime victims."

"Sexual violence hurts the very foundations of the person, and affects their family members and people around them. Each person needs to think about the issue so that none of us becomes an aggressor, victim or bystander," Ito told the press following the ruling. She says she still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder from her experience.

In addition to her own book, Ito has been vocal about problems regarding sexual crime-related investigations and the judicial system in Japan. She also shed light on issues in Japanese society surrounding sexual violence, using domestic and overseas media outlets to show she was subjected to a "second rape" by receiving threats and criticism after she went public about her case.

Around the same time Ito revealed her story, the anti-sexual violence #MeToo movement gained momentum in the U.S. In Japan, too, social waves to condemn sexual violence swept the country in the past two years, from the revelation of sexual harassment by a top Finance Ministry bureaucrat to nationwide "Flower Demo" protest rallies following a series of acquittals of defendants charged with sex crimes.

Speaking before her supporters after the ruling, Ito said, "Big changes are happening little by little. The view I am seeing right now is completely different from the one in the past."

Noriyuki Yamaguchi, the defendant in the civil trial over the rape allegation, is seen at a news conference in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Dec. 18, 2019. (Mainichi/Aya Shiota)

Meanwhile, Yamaguchi held a news conference after the ruling and indicated his intention to appeal. He expressed his frustration over the ruling, saying, "I cannot accept it. We pointed out contradictions between Ms. Ito's argument and objective evidence, but it was ignored without even being considered. I did nothing against the law." Yamaguchi also argued that Ito lied about her case, telling the press that he has filed criminal complaints against Ito over suspected false accusations and defamation.

In the first press conference he held after the rape case surfaced, Yamaguchi commented that it was "inappropriate" to have had sex with Ito, who was a university student seeking job opportunities at the time, while he was an employee at the broadcaster.

(Japanese original by Aya Shiota, Satoko Nakagawa and Sumire Kunieda, Integrated Digital News Center)

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