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30% of people abused by teachers suffered sexual violence in class: Japan survey

Ikuko Ishida is seen announcing the results of a survey at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology in Chiyoda Ward, Tokyo, on Dec. 10, 2020. (Mainichi/Akira Okubo)

TOKYO -- A survey of people who have experienced or came close to experiencing sexual violence from staff at school when they were pupils has revealed that some 80% of those polled were victimized at school, with the largest number -- around 30% -- reported the acts taking place during lessons.

    The findings were announced on Dec. 10 during a press conference at the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology's press club by Ikuko Ishida, 43, who previously came forward about alleged sexual abuse she suffered between ages 15 and 19 from her junior high school teacher.

    Launched with the intention to examine the reality of sexual violence in schools, the survey found that while abuse disguised as teaching is rampant in educational institutions, as much as nearly 80% of students on the receiving end aren't able to realize what's taking place, thereby revealing that inappropriate behavior by teachers is continuing to happen under the surface.

    Ishida ran the online survey from July 9 to 31, and the results came after analysis of 149 valid responses received from people who either suffered or came close to suffering sexual violence.

    In response to a multiple-answer section asking people what kind of abuse they have undergone, 24.8% said they had been touched or made to touch, 20.8% said they had been told sexual things, or made to participate in sexual conversations, while 12.7% reported being subject to sexual acts or made to perform them, and another 12.7% said their bodies were looked at.

    As much as nearly 80% of those abused as children said they hadn't been aware of what was happening at the time. When asked when they did realize, 22.6% said "within 10 years," while 12.2% said "within five years" and 10.4% answered "within 15 years."

    The results illustrated the special characteristics of sexual violence in schools. Many people abused as children tend to think at the time that they might be imagining the treatment, or that their teachers were actually being kind to them. It therefore is difficult for children who don't harbor suspicions toward their teachers to tell other adults what has happened, and many only realize what was going on once they grow up.

    Forty-one of those surveyed reported that other teachers had realized abuse was taking place. But, in response to questions on how those third parties responded to the issue, 63.4% said they pretended to not see what was happening.

    Among the 108 respondents who said they had suffered abuse repeatedly, just five people described incidents in which parents or police intervened to stop an education worker's abuse. More than half of the same 108 people said that their abuse ended after they graduated or the teacher involved was transferred and they consequently stopped seeing each other. Additionally, of the 149 responses, only two said a teacher left their post following the abuse.

    Seriously concerned by a situation in which children can't call out for help and cannot stop abuse even if they work up the courage to try to stop it, Ishida presented the survey's findings to Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Yoko Wanibuchi, and petitioned her for preventative policies based on the reality victims face.

    Ishida is calling for making it mandatory for third-party committees including clinical psychologists and lawyers to conduct investigations, and for other educational staff who realize abuse is taking place to alert authorities. Additionally, she said, "There's a lot of cases of (third parties) turning the other way, with people (around victims) saying things like, 'That teacher could never do a thing like that,' or, 'You should keep it to yourself.' It's very serious."

    (Japanese original by Mari Sakane, Nagano Bureau)

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