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Japan woman with PTSD from alleged sexual violence by teacher goes public to stop abuse

Ikuko Ishida is seen holding up a sign in which the words "sexual harassment" have been crossed out to emphasize the words "sexual violence by teachers against students," in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on July 9, 2020. (Mainichi/Kristina Gan)

A Japanese woman who in her junior high school days became an alleged victim of sexual abuse by one of her teachers has found the strength to face up to her damage more than 20 years on from the apparent attacks.

    Ikuko Ishida, 42, who now lives in Tokyo, wants no more new victims. So, she came forward with her real name to declare herself someone who had suffered abuse at school, and got involved in running a survey on sexual assault at educational institutions.

    The national government says that it intends to step up prevention of sex crimes and sexual violence, but Ishida thinks this isn't enough, saying, "I want the government to have a greater sense of crisis about the state of sexual assault victims in places of education."

    For Ishida, her pain goes back around 30 years. She was apparently suddenly kissed by one of her teachers on the day before her graduation ceremony from the junior high school she attended in the Hokkaido prefectural capital of Sapporo, northernmost Japan.

    Not realizing what had happened, her mind went blank. After that time, the teacher undressed her top half both at his home and when they were outside, and he forced her to perform sex acts, among other sexual abuse. This continued until she was aged 19 and a second-year university student.

    A few years on and with an improved sense of perception, she became able to look back on what happened at that time, and realized for the first time that she had been a victim. "I didn't have any concept that I could be suspicious of someone who is a teacher, someone who is meant to set an example as an ideal adult," Ishida said. Looking back on that time, she added, "Deep in my heart I think I was at the maximum limit of my fear. Like when electric current reaches its peak and the breaker cuts the power, when I experienced sexual assault I instead went quiet and it became so that I felt nothing."

    In the process of facing the trauma she had been repressing for years, Ishida developed post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 2016. But despite that she told herself she couldn't let this pass in silence, and pushed herself to speak out. That same year, she sent a request for the Sapporo Municipal Board of Education to investigate the accused teacher and punish him.

    But the teacher involved denied all of the allegations. There were no punishments, and he reportedly still stands up in front of classes to teach today. Ishida says she considered reporting the case to the police, but the statute of limitations stood in her way. In Japan, crimes relating to forcible sexual intercourse can be charged for up to 10 years after they took place, while crimes of forcible indecency have a seven-year limit.

    In February 2019, she used her real name to sue the Sapporo Municipal Board of Education and the teacher in the Tokyo District Court for damages coming to around 30 million yen (about $284,849). But in August of the same year, the case was rejected on the grounds that the right to claim damages for unlawful acts had expired as it had been 20 years after the crimes are said to have been committed. She is appealing the case, on the basis that "the question of whether indecent acts took place was not judged upon."

    To investigate the reality of sexual violence committed by people working in education, Ishida set up a survey online running between May 11 and 31 this year. About 80% of the respondents were female, with males making up about 20%. Among the 717 usable answers, as many as 42.4% reported having experienced "a sexual experience or been a victim of sexual violence" from teachers either when they were in school, or after graduating.

    When answering questions that allowed for multiple responses, 29.2% said they had either been "touched by or made to touch" a teacher, and 7.7% said that they had either experienced a sex act being performed on them or been made to perform one on a teacher.

    Ishida said after analyzing the results, "In instances such as when teachers would comment on the way their bodies had developed, or the way the teachers would touch them when helping them in class, it is thought that respondents had uneasy feelings, but they couldn't put their finger on them at the time. I was shocked to find some people even describing that they'd been raped."

    In 2017, the national government revised the Penal Code for the first time in 110 years to make punishments against sexual crimes stricter. An additional clause was set to call for consideration of a further review three years after the changes, and a panel consisting of experts called the "committee to review the penal laws relating to sexual crimes" was established in time with the plans in March by the Ministry of Justice. It will reconsider time limits on court cases concerning sexual crimes, among other issues.

    Ishida attended the committee's third meeting in July. There, she explained why it is difficult to bring to light sexual violence perpetrated by teachers, saying, "Children don't have an awareness of themselves as victims, and until they can face the scary things that happen to them, they will avoid (thinking about) them."

    She also sat for a press conference after the meeting adjourned, where she said, "I want people to understand more about how easily children can be victimized by school teachers they trust."

    According to the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, in fiscal 2018, a total of 282 teaching staff at public schools -- including elementary, junior high and high schools and other kinds of institutions -- received punishments for indecent or sexually harassing acts on students. The first time the number exceeded 200 people was fiscal 2013, with 205 employees disciplined, and since then the numbers have stayed over the 200 mark, with 205 people in fiscal 2014, 224 in fiscal 2015, 226 in fiscal 2016 and 210 in fiscal 2017.

    But as a percentage of all the teaching staff in Japan, they make up only between 0.02 and 0.03% of all people working in education, depending on the numbers reported each fiscal year.

    (Japanese original by Kristina Gan, Nagoya News Center, and Mari Sakane, Nagano Bureau)

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