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Editorial: Full probe of Japan's SDF must be conducted to stamp out sexual violence

Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada has ordered a special defense inspection of all Self-Defense Forces (SDF) personnel in a bid to stamp out sexual violence and other forms of harassment.

    The Inspector General's Office of Legal Compliance, which is directly overseen by the minister of defense and headed by a former superintendent public prosecutor will conduct the investigation from an independent standpoint.

    Sexual violence is a violation of human rights, and cannot be tolerated. This is an opportunity to conduct a thorough investigation to expose problems, and the matter must be dealt with strictly.

    The move comes after Rina Gonoi, a former SDF member, came forward with accusations of sexual violence on the internet after leaving the forces in June.

    Gonoi said she was repeatedly sexually assaulted by a group of male SDF members at the Ground Self-Defense Force garrison to which she belonged. Documents on three male members were sent to public prosecutors on suspicion of sexual assault, but prosecutors decided not to indict them.

    When Gonoi called for information online, 146 people came forward with complaints of harassment within the forces. In August, she submitted over 100,000 signatures to the Ministry of Defense calling for a fair investigation by a third party.

    In a news conference, Hamada said that the Inspector General's Office of Legal Compliance is preparing to conduct a renewed investigation into the male SDF members involved in Gonoi's case.

    Nevertheless, the Defense Ministry bears a heavy responsibility for neglecting this issue.

    In recent years, the recruitment of female members to the SDF has advanced, but still men account for over 90% of SDF personnel. Outside eyes cannot easily reach this "vertical society" based on rank, and in this environment, it has been pointed out that there is a climate in which harassment can easily occur.

    In actual fact, the number of consultations fielded by the Defense Ministry in fiscal 2021 topped 2,300, nearly 10 times more than the figure recorded five years ago. It is believed there is a significant number of cases of not only sexual violence toward women, but bullying among male members and power harassment.

    In response to this, the Ministry of Defense will conduct an emergency inspection of the consultations received to date, and will also set up an expert panel to conduct a drastic review of harassment countermeasures.

    This is the first time for a special defense inspection to be conducted by the legal compliance office since its probe into the cover-up of logs kept by SDF personnel during a peacekeeping mission in South Sudan, exposed in 2017, and such a move is extremely rare.

    A thorough investigation must be carried out, including into whether the harassment issue was covered up.

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