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Japan woman sues father 30 years after long-term childhood sexual abuse

A woman speaks about the sexual abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her father, in Hiroshima's Naka Ward on Jan. 18, 2021. (Mainichi/Akari Terouchi)
The angry writings of a woman who was sexually abused growing up are seen in this photo taken in Hiroshima's Naka Ward on Feb. 25, 2021. It reads, "I will likely never marry or give birth because of my father." (Mainichi/Akari Terouchi)

HIROSHIMA -- "Why do I have to suffer my entire life when I've done nothing wrong?" asked a resident here in her 40s who repressed, for over 30 years, the abhorrent memories of sexual abuse she suffered as a child at the hands of her father. But after her beloved grandmother, whom she had wanted to protect from the awful truth, died three years ago, she lost both her emotional rock and control of her feelings.

    "I want my father to know how much I suffer," she said. Confronting her tragic past face on, and in order to move forward, the woman is fighting with her father in court.

    The sexual abuse started when the woman was still a young child attending day care. Her father told her, "Don't tell anyone," and "I'm doing this because I love you." She was shown pornographic videos and touched. This happened repeatedly and eventually escalated until, on Christmas Day when she was in the fourth grade, her father raped her. She couldn't seek help from her mother, because her mother was sick and in and out of hospital. The assaults continued until the woman was in around the second year of junior high school.

    She was convinced into thinking that her father's actions were "normal." In the beginning she was too young to understand what his behavior meant, but as she grew older, the scars grew deeper. The only consolation was her grandmother. To fill in for her mother, her grandmother would come to her home repeatedly to make meals for her and shower her with love.

    "I felt like my body was dirty and I couldn't stand it," she said. The woman became filled with distrust toward her father, and was in so much emotional pain that she couldn't stop herself from screaming. But because she did not want to sadden her grandmother, she did not tell her what was happening, and placed a lid on her own heart. She's now out in the world on her own working as a company employee, but her relationships with men never last long.

    When her grandmother -- the only person she trusted -- died three years ago, the woman began suffering from flashbacks of her abuse, which is a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. Once, it happened when she was driving her car. All of a sudden, the experience of being sexually abused came rushing back to her very clearly, forcing her to scream. The lid she had put on her own heart had opened. She tried to maintain her sanity by putting the anger gushing out of her down on paper.

    Desperate, she finally contacted a nonprofit organization that works to prevent sexual abuse. She was filled with anxiety over whether the organization would believe her, since she didn't have any evidence of abuse, but as she spoke with the staff, she regained her calm. She was introduced to spaces where she could interact with other people who had survived similar types of abuse, and the organization showed her what options she had in order for her to move forward.

    In August 2020, the woman filed a lawsuit with the Hiroshima District Court against her father seeking 11 million yen (approx. $101,000) in damages. She explained the reason for choosing to go to court: "There must be children who are being sexually abused right now. There are hardly no children who can say, 'Help me.' I want people to become aware of that reality." Of course, she harbors anger toward her father as well.

    During the trial, the woman's father admitted to sexually abusing his daughter, but denied the period and frequency of rape that was claimed by the plaintiff. He has tried to fight back with the statute of limitations, suggesting that his daughter would no longer have the right to seek damages since it has been over 20 years since the unlawful act was committed. In response, the woman has rebutted that the amount of time passed should be calculated from three years ago, since her flashbacks began after her grandmother died.

    The woman says repeatedly, "The perpetrators of sexual abuse do not teach children that they can say 'No.' Only time passes. Unless the people around them notice, victims will not cease to exist."

    There seems to be no sign of decline in the number of sexual abuse cases against children. According to the Ministry of Health, Labor and Welfare, child consultation centers nationwide responded to 2,077 cases of child sexual abuse in fiscal 2019, up 2.75 times from fiscal 2000, when the Act on the Prevention, etc. of Child Abuse went into force. In 1,056 of these cases, the perpetrators were biological fathers.

    Penalties against sex crimes were toughened up in 2017 in amendments to the Penal Code. One of these amendments established punishments for fathers, mothers or other guardians with custody of children under 18 years of age and use their influence to have sex with their children, even if no threats are made. It was made an offense that can be prosecuted even if a complaint is not filed by the victim, but some still point to defects in the law. This is because the statute of limitations for prosecution is 10 years, meaning that if a victim who is under the age of 10 tries to sue their parents or other guardians after they reach adulthood at age 20, the statute of limitations would have expired.

    Because it is difficult to detect sexual abuse that occurs in the household, in France, there is a measure in place to halt the statute of limitations on public prosecution until victims reach the age of 18. "Young children don't know what's been done to them even when they are sexually abused," says attorney Keiko Fujimoto, who engages in work related to sexual violence and domestic violence. "The reality is that there are many cases that are veiled because children cannot consult anyone, and others do not detect the victimization that is going on." Fujimoto seeks further amendments to the Penal Code that corresponds to the reality of victimization, including the issue of statute of limitations.

    (Japanese original by Akari Terouchi, Hiroshima Bureau)

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