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Group for troubled teens in Japan alleges sexual harassment during visit by legislators

This file photo shows the Liberal Democratic Party's headquarters in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward. (Mainichi/Kazuhisa Soneda)

TOKYO -- A group supporting teenage girls suffering from abuse, poverty and other issues through temporary cafes has sent a protest to five ruling party legislators and Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward assembly members alleging sexual harassment and other problematic behavior by lawmakers during a recent cafe visit.

The group, Colabo, is demanding that Hiroshi Hase, a legislator in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) who formerly served as education minister, admit he sexually harassed a teenage girl and apologize. It is also seeking reflection and apologies from the other legislators who visited the cafe.

Members of the Housing First study group chaired by Hase visited the cafe for teenage girls set up by Colabo on April 22. Colabo released details of the visit in the form of a "protest and request." According to the protest document, when the group received an inquiry on April 21 about a visit by the legislators the following day, it replied that it would accept "up to five people." But in the end, around 15 people turned up, resulting in the cafe becoming crowded despite concerns over the novel coronavirus.

In addition, only two members of the politician group turned up at the appointed time, and the stream of others arriving created confusion. Furthermore, the document said that there were people who didn't give their names even when asked, or give greetings, and that photos were taken without permission. It also pointed the finger at Hase for his overbearing attitude as he summoned his secretary in a loud voice.

Colabo quoted one of the girls at the cafe as saying, "The things we had held important up until now were ruined in an instant, and it felt like they were taken from us."

Additionally, when visiting members took part in putting up the cafe tent, Hase allegedly sexually harassed a teenage girl attending the cafe. According to the support group, when the girl was setting up a light at the cafe, Hase came from behind her saying, "Move out of the way a bit" and placed both his hands on her hips. The girl immediately ran away, and afterward she reported to a Colabo staff member that the incident had hurt her. The girl was reportedly emotionally shocked and became unable to eat, and other girls at the cafe who learned about the incident were said to have felt scared.

After Colabo's representative director Yumeno Nito wrote about the visitors' alleged actions on her Twitter account, House of Representatives legislator Toshiko Abe, member of the LDP in the study group's secretariat, offered an apology, saying all responsibility lay with her. Nito, however maintained, "I cannot agree that the overbearing attitudes of the male representatives who took part and legislator Hase's sexual harassment are all legislator Abe's responsibility." She said, "I decided to write the formal protest document and request an apology in writing so that they understand what the problem was, and also so there could be improvements."

The protest document introduced what it said were comments that the girl touched by Hase wanted to convey. It quoted her as saying, "After being touched by legislator Hase, I was hurt by the fact that he seems to have no self-awareness of inflicting any damage based on the response afterward and blog articles. I get the feeling that he's looking down on me as a 'cheap woman,' and I'm angry that a person like this is a legislator in the Diet. Perpetrators of discrimination and violence often say 'I was unaware of it' or 'I wasn't thinking about it.' But I think he picked me out and did what he did aware of the place and the timing."

When approached by the Mainichi Shimbun, Hase's office on April 24 commented, "We've only just received the document. From here on we want to understand it and adopt a proper response."

(Japanese original by Miyuki Fujisawa, Integrated Digital News Center)

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