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Shiori Ito case shows Japan needs social movement against rape survivor discrimination

Journalist Shiori Ito filed a lawsuit with the Tokyo District Court on June 8 against cartoonist Toshiko Hasumi and others for damages, claiming that the defendants defamed her by sharing an illustration alleging that she "slept her way" to a job.

Ito said, "They were words directed at me, but they will hurt those who have had similar experiences." She added, "If left unaddressed, people will never be free from second rape." And expressing her resolve, she said, "I want name-calling and abuse to end in my generation."

Her words reminded me of a woman I met in Israel, called Ortal. Now 49, she was raped at age 15, and subsequently shut herself at home for several years. While distressed by self-hatred and humiliation, an older woman she met through a mutual friend talked to her about her own experience of sexual abuse.

The woman said she felt damage to her self-esteem, a sense of shame, and discrimination and prejudice from people around her. Her words, Ortal said, described her experience, too. Ortal tearfully thanked her, and in return the woman told her that encouraging someone else also gave her energy to keep going. The woman became her role model.

Ortal and others founded nonprofit group "Girls for Girls" 13 years ago to support women affected by sexual violence. It created a system in which those who sought help from the group could become mentors to other women who would come to it, by talking with them one on one. They call each other "survivors," not "victims." Governments and universities support the group's program, and so far some 500 women have fulfilled its mentor roles.

How people are referred to is important because it creates a mental picture. In Japan, people who experience rape are referred to with terms like "victim", but in the U.S. and European countries they are often called "survivors." It sends a message of respect and admiration towards those who survived major hardships in life. If it were me, I would rather be called a survivor.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network based in Washington D.C., the largest nonprofit with a goal to ending sexual violence in the U.S., works with the American government. Through it, a total of 1,500 survivors have talked publically about their stories while revealing their real names. Despite efforts like these, in the United States only 25% of people who survive rape report the crimes to police. This is far lower than with other types of crime, which is apparently due to prejudice against those affected by it.

In Japan, second rape is a phenomenon that society overlooks, and it can be said that some courageous survivors and experts are being left alone to fight the battle against it. We need a structure taken on by society as a whole to address second rape issues.

(Japanese original by Tomoko Ohji, Editorial Division)

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