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Editorial: Shiori Ito's case shows Japan must protect sexual assault victims

In a civil suit brought at the Tokyo District Court, the court recognized that Shiori Ito had been the victim of sexual violence at the hands of former Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS) Television Inc. journalist Noriyuki Yamaguchi, and ordered Yamaguchi to pay damages.

The ruling declared that Yamaguchi had engaged in sexual intercourse without the consent of Ito, who was deeply intoxicated and unconscious.

Ito had initially filed a criminal rape complaint with the Metropolitan Police Department, but the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office decided not to indict Yamaguchi. After a committee for the inquest of prosecution also dismissed the case, Ito filed a civil lawsuit.

Unlike criminal cases, which require rigorous verification of the facts, civil suits try to determine which side has the most reliable argument. Yamaguchi has indicated his intention to appeal.

Ito had been consulting Yamaguchi about her search for a job in journalism when the assault took place. To use one's position or the nature of the relationship with another to engage in exploitive sexual behavior is to trample on the other person's human rights.

In 2017, Ito held a press conference to open up about her experience, and published a book. She has been vocal about her thoughts on society's awareness regarding sexual violence and problems with the judiciary.

Around the same time, the #MeToo movement launched in the United States spilled over into Japan. "Flower demos" in which participants protest sexual violence have also been expanding.

Ito's actions gave courage to the people behind these moves. The court ruling even recognized that Ito's press conference and book served the public interest, saying she went public "in a bid to improve the legal and social situation surrounding victims of sexual violence."

Since Ito opened up about her experience, however, she has become the target of slander on the internet and in right-wing magazines.

In Japan, there is deep-seated prejudice that in sexual assault cases, the victim is to blame in some part for the incident. There are many victims who, due to their fears of how they might be perceived by society and how their personal relationships might be affected, are unable to raise their voices and continue to live their lives deeply scarred.

According to a Cabinet Office survey, one in every 13 women has been forced to have sex against their will, and 60% have never sought advice after the assaults.

At a press conference following the court ruling, Yamaguchi told reporters that another sexual assault survivor told him that "real sexual assault victims do not smile at press conferences." That's the kind of thinking that silences victims.

In order to build a society in which victims of sexual violence are protected, it is crucial to create an environment where people find it easy to seek advice. More than anything, it is important to eliminate society's lack of understanding.

In the latest case, a warrant was issued for Yamaguchi's arrest, but the arrest was not carried out. Ito finds this problematic. Yamaguchi is said to be close to the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. What led to the failure to arrest Yamaguchi must be examined.

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