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Lawyer questioned attacker's liability to sexually assaulted ex-Japan SDF member's face

Former Ground Self-Defense Force member Rina Gonoi is seen at a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo on Dec. 19, 2022. (Mainichi/Ririko Maeda)

TOKYO -- A former Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) member who was sexually assaulted by multiple male colleagues has revealed that an attorney representing one of her attackers told her it was "questionable whether the personnel could be held liable individually" over the case.

    Rina Gonoi, 23, a former private first class at Camp Koriyama in Fukushima Prefecture, held a news conference at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo on Dec. 19 and said she had been offered a settlement by three of the accused men. The Ministry of Defense on Dec. 15 handed five male members, including those three, aged from their 20s to 40s and ranked between sergeant to master sergeant, disciplinary dismissal.

    In August 2021, Gonoi was pushed down by three sergeants in a dorm room, while a dozen or so male members were present, before they pressed their crotches against her. She was also subject to other sexual harassment. The three were referred to prosecutors on suspicion of indecent assault, but the Koriyama branch of the Fukushima District Public Prosecutors Office subsequently dropped the charges against them. However, the Koriyama Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution ruled in September this year that it was unjust not to prosecute the accused men. The branch has accordingly reopened its investigation.

    Gonoi explained at the Dec. 19 news conference that the three now former GSDF members offered some 300,000 yen (about $2,300) each as settlement money. When the attorney was presenting her this offer, they reportedly said it was "questionable whether the personnel could be held liable individually" over the assault.

    Gonoi said, "I was ready to accept the offer but more than the amount of settlement, I was surprised by this comment, which made me think they are not taking (the damage they have caused) seriously."

    In response, Gonoi said she had asked the accused men how they were facing their actions and how they were taking responsibility, and is waiting for their reply. She also stated that she was considering suing the national government for damages.

    Gonoi also revealed that around the time she started coming forward about the sexual assault on a video sharing site after she left the GSDF in June, anonymous social media users posted defamation and false claims about her. She said she has filed reports with police over malicious posts.

    Overall, nine men, including the five that have been dismissed and the troop commander who didn't report the assault to his superior officer, have faced some kind of punitive action. Gonoi pointed out during the news conference that sexual harassment was "part of communication" among her team members and that they had become numb to harassment. She stated, "I believe the GSDF can change, otherwise my action of coming forward will become meaningless."

    (Japanese original by Toshiaki Uchihashi and Kotaro Adachi, Tokyo City News Department)

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