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Famed Japan photojournalist targeted young, low-status staff for worst sex abuse: report

In response to Ryuichi Hirokawa's sexual violence allegations, the monthly magazine DAYS JAPAN printed an apology in its February 2019 issue. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- An investigative panel looking into allegations that renowned photo journalist Ryuichi Hirokawa had harassed employees both sexually and otherwise released its final report confirming the harassment had taken place.

Ryuichi Hirokawa is pictured here in a Feb. 28, 2017 file photo. (Mainichi/Noriko Tokuno)

The results reached by the panel, comprising labor journalist Masaomi Kaneko, and attorneys Toshiro Ueyanagi and Keiko Ota, were published Dec. 27 on the website of the now defunct monthly magazine DAYS JAPAN, of which the 76-year-old Hirokawa had been publisher.

The panel interviewed a total 45 former DAYS JAPAN employees and part-time workers between February and December 2019. As a result, the panel was able to confirm 13 years of sexual and "power" harassment at the hands of Hirokawa -- between 2004, shortly after the company was established, and 2017, the year before the problems surfaced. The panel determined that the harassment amounted to unjustifiable conduct under Japan's Civil Code, and admonished Hirokawa and DAYS JAPAN to apologize and pay damages to the victims.

At first, the panel had aimed to release its final report around fall of this year. The panel says the completion of its final report was delayed due to sloppy maintenance of personal information of DAYS JAPAN employees and others connected to the company. Hirokawa's uncooperative attitude also hindered the investigation, as he claimed, among other things, that he had no recollection of certain events, making it time-consuming to identify his victims.

Seventeen people -- DAYS JAPAN company employees, part-time workers, volunteers, interns, and students of the company's photojournalism classes -- were sexually assaulted or harassed, according to the report. It recognized that Hirokawa raped three of the women, sexually touched two, photographed four naked, asked seven to engage in sexual relationships with him, and placed a pornographic video where one of them could see it. The most serious cases, such as rape, were apparently concentrated among volunteers and part-time workers through their mid-20s.

An issue of the monthly magazine DAYS JAPAN, right, and a photo collection by Ryuichi Hirokawa. (Mainichi)

The final report said that when a company employee turned down Hirokawa's sexual advances, he did not go any further. But there is testimony from non-regular workers such as volunteers and part-timers, who are in a weaker employment position, that Hirokawa "seemed to have sex with me (the victim) with the assumption that there was no possibility that he would be turned down." Thus, the report points out the possibility that Hirokawa changed his behavior depending on the position or status of the other party.

Specific incidents include one in which a woman who accompanied Hirokawa on an overseas trip was raped day after day; another in which a woman was told he would teach her photography and to meet him at a hotel and was raped; another in which a woman was taken to a hotel after being reprimanded; another in which Hirokawa took nude photos of the woman; and a case in which Hirokawa hugged a woman and licked her fingers. The panel found the testimony to be consistent, and to match objective facts.

Meanwhile, Hirokawa apparently has not expressed any remorse to the investigative panel.

In response to the probe, Hirokawa said that he had had sex with his employees and others, but that it was with the other person's consent. However, he did not present any explanations that would back up his argument that the sexual relationships were consensual. When the panel asked, "It is highly unlikely for women around their 20s to find you, Mr. Hirokawa, a man in his 60s and 70s (at the time), as an object of sexual attraction, but why did you think you were?" he merely said, "There are people who feel that way." But he did not provide an explanation on any specific circumstances. As for any sexual contact, Hirokawa simply responded that he did not remember.

The report described such responses from Hirokawa as "lacking rationality, extremely low in trustworthiness relative to victims' testimonies, and insincere." It also declared that Hirokawa "one after another targeted and sexually assaulted women who had ... gathered out of respect for Hirokawa's stand on behalf of the underdog and his resistance to those in power." In addition, the report stated that Hirokawa's actions abused his title as a photojournalist, and used his authority to put workers who turned down his sexual advances at a disadvantage. In other words, what he did was "heinous quid pro quo sexual harassment."

Hirokawa is said to have told the panel, "I realize that it's not that 'there had been consent,' but rather it's just that I'd simply 'felt that there had been consent.'" At the same time, however, he has reportedly said, "If I confirm the facts, there's a possibility I can apologize to the victims based on what I find. But when I talk about confirming the facts, I'm told, 'Don't do it, because it'll cause secondary victimization.' I can't abide this approach, which restricts my avenues to a rebuttal."

The final report says about these responses, Hirokawa "did offer words that sounded like self-reflection, but ultimately, he not only failed to confront his transgressions and his responsibilities, but is stuck on a claim that could cause secondary damage to the victims. He has no consideration for the emotional damage and pain that the other parties still carry with them."

Some among the victims require counseling, and have been forced to give up their dreams of becoming journalists. In the report, the panel wrote that Hirokawa's public claims that the sex with the women had been consensual amounts to secondary victimization, and admonished him to refrain from making such declarations.

The panel furthermore recognized that there had been "daily and serious" power harassment in the form of sudden yelling, irrational and emotional instructions, long work hours resulting from heavy workloads and the nonpayment of overtime, the firing or coerced resignation of workers who objected to Hirokawa's harassment, and the performance of Hirokawa's personal errands.

Hirokawa's overwhelmingly autocratic manner and sloppy workplace management were cited in the final report as the backdrop against which Hirokawa's improper behavior was able to go unchecked, the report pointed out. The company's main source of income was the subscription fees from the monthly magazine, and Hirokawa had forced employees to take on excessive workloads to cut labor costs.

Many in the company respected Hirokawa for having humanitarian aid as the company mission, and there was a sense that they should turn a blind eye to his minor transgressions. Additionally, there was pressure that if they protested, they would be forced out of their jobs, which made it difficult to identify and deal openly with problems. At the company, there was no mechanism in place where one could seek advice about harassment, nor any preventative measures.

The report also criticized DAYS JAPAN's other board members for failing to fulfill their duty of monitoring Hirokawa's illegal and improper behavior, for not taking appropriate action when such behavior was reported, and for not even finding it problematic when harassment victims were forced to resign.

In May 2018, when DAYS JAPAN forced two employees to quit in quick succession, the employees hastily joined a labor union and sought a collective bargaining session. It became clear from the report that in the midst of this process, the company suddenly decided that it would dissolve. Three other employees formed a union, but the company applied pressure on those three workers by issuing suspensions and other punishments. The panel criticized the decisions as "devoid of awareness and ethics becoming of management."

In response to the investigation, Hirokawa defended himself, saying, "I was unable to allocate enough money to personnel because we were working just within the budget without going into debt." The panel slammed Hirokawa's explanation. "Even though (Hirokawa) was up against the wall trying to manage this organization, he did not seek outside help in operating the company. The company was a typical sweatshop, in which the workers' rights were not acknowledged, and the management thought nothing of resorting to legal violations."

DAYS JAPAN released a comment on its website that read, "We are keenly aware of the company's responsibility, and deeply apologize to the victims of Hirokawa's actions."

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

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