Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) lawmaker Mio Sugita, a member of the House of Representatives, recently stated during a party meeting that "women can tell as many lies as they want" in connection with sexual assaults. It was as if to say that the claims of victims of sexual assault are tainted with lies.
Initially, Sugita denied having made the statement, but after LDP policy chief Hakubun Shimomura verbally admonished her, she made a turnaround and admitted in her blog that she had indeed made the statement, and apologized.
Sugita claimed that she never intended to look down on women, but the fact of the matter is that her statement degraded victims and can be deemed a form of "second rape."
To being with, there remains a strong bias in Japan that victims of sexual violence are somehow at fault, and as a result there are many victims who can't speak up about it. Sugita's statement could end up encouraging such a state of affairs.
Sugita previously criticized journalist Shiori Ito after she went public with allegations that she had been raped, saying that Ito was "at fault as a woman."
It is only natural that Sugita's latest remark resulted in the spread on protests online calling for her resignation as a legislator.
Policy chief Shimomura, however, went no further than cautioning Sugita, saying that she needed to "provide clearer explanations to more accurately convey her true intent." And while it was noted that Sugita's statement had been confirmed, there was no account of the facts, on the grounds that concrete exchanges in the LDP meeting were not being made public.
Yet though it may have been a closed-door meeting, Sugita's statement is not something that can be tolerated. The LDP should take a firm response. It is incomprehensible, moreover, that there was no marked criticism of her statement from within the party.
Sugita previously came under fire over a comment on sexual minorities such as LGBT people in a contribution to a monthly magazine, saying that they "don't have children, and therefore are not productive" as members of Japanese society. At the time, the LDP expressed the view that Sugita's expression lacked understanding and consideration for those involved. But when it came to punishment, the party merely announced that it had "instructed her to take sufficient care."
From its responses to date, it seems that there is a breeding ground within the LDP to accept the kind of thinking that surfaced in Sugita's comments.
Sugita was elected to the Diet in the lower house election three years ago as a proportional representation candidate backed by former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. As leader of the LDP, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga should take a serious view of the party's responsibility for fielding her as a candidate. The party should make her provide a detailed explanation and strictly respond to the matter.