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Editorial: Make new Japan law barring sex offender teachers from returning to work viable

A new law has been passed in Japan, making it harder for educators who have been subject to disciplinary dismissal for sexual misconduct toward students to return to the profession.

    In the 2019 academic year, 273 teachers were dismissed for obscene acts and sexual harassment from public schools across Japan, second only to the record set in the 2018 academic year, in which 282 teachers were dismissed for similar reasons.

    Students have suffered deep emotional scars. It is only natural to beef up measures against such behavior on the part of educators.

    The new law, passed after it was initiated by a suprapartisan group of legislators, banned such things as the touching of students' bodies with obscene intent, and sexual speech and behavior, deeming them acts of "sexual violence," and sought that preventative measures be put in place by the Japanese government, as well as local governments and schools.

    Of note is that the law, as a general rule, has made it impossible for teachers who have had their license revoked for sexual misconduct to return to the profession.

    The length of time that a teacher's license is invalid after it is revoked is three years, but under the new law, if someone who was once dismissed for sexual misconduct toward students applies for a license to be reissued, each prefectural board of education is able to deny the applicant a new license at its own discretion.

    In the past, there have been cases in which a teacher who was reissued a teaching license was given a new teaching job at a new location to which they moved after hiding their past history of dismissal, and repeatedly carried out sexually inappropriate behavior toward students at their new school. The new law stipulates the creation of a nationwide database of teachers who have been dismissed for sexual misconduct.

    Yet despite these measures, challenges remain.

    The exemption made for teachers who have been judged to have been rehabilitated properly, which allows prefectural boards of education to decide whether to reissue teaching licenses, may lead to wide variability in decision-making criteria from board to board.

    In addition, the new law requires schools and local governments to engage in actions that will lead to early detection of sexual misconduct, and in-depth investigations when such misconduct is detected, but it is unclear how thorough those bodies will be in their probes. This is because a "don't-rock-the-boat" attitude toward such investigations is evident from how boards of education handle the issue of bullying.

    The Japanese government will lay down basic guidelines for action based on the new law. In order to ensure that there will not be great disparities in how cases are handled from education board to education board and from school to school, the government should explicitly indicate uniform standards.

    Creating the right environment is also crucial in order to prevent damage in the case that sexual misconduct occurs, from escalating.

    Because teachers have overwhelming power at school, some students are unable to tell anyone about the damage they have experienced at the hands of their teachers. It is important there be resident counselors and other adults nearby that students can feel they can open up to.

    Students are lacking in knowledge and in some cases are not aware that they are victims of sexual misconduct, so it is necessary to enrich sex education as well.

    For the new law to become a functioning system, it is crucial that schools and local governments share their commitment to protecting children, and pour their energy into measures that do.

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