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Proposed revisions to Japan's law on sex crimes to better define consent

The subcommittee meeting of the Justice Ministry's Legislative Council which presented a draft outline of changes to the country's Penal Code provisions on sex crimes, is held at the ministry in Tokyo's Chiyoda Ward on Feb. 3, 2023. (Mainichi/Masakatsu Yamamoto)

TOKYO -- The outline of proposed revisions to Japan's Penal Code that would broadly change the scope of sex crimes was presented at a meeting of a Ministry of Justice advisory panel on Feb. 3.

    The draft revisions were debated and compiled by a subcommittee of the Ministry of Justice's Legislative Council. They aim to update the definition of sex crimes in order to respond to real situations faced by victims of sexual violence. The draft is expected to be put forward at a general meeting of the Legislative Council in the near future, then presented to the Justice Minister. The government will then submit a bill to revise the law to the current session of the Diet.

    Under current law, the standard for defining sex crimes and determining whether the victim gave consent focuses on two factors: whether the accused engaged in violence or threats, and whether the victim was in a physical or mental state which made it significantly difficult to resist. Because of the abstractness of these definitions, some acts that should have been considered criminal have gone unpunished, and this has also led to a variation in the decisions made by judges in trials, the draft pointed out.

    Under the proposed changes, in addition to threats and violence, eight factors involving the accused's actions and the victim's status, including "ingestion of drugs or alcohol" and "concerns over disadvantages due to the influence of economic or social relations," would be taken into consideration. These revisions would make it possible to punish sexual acts taking place while the victim is in a state that makes it difficult to express a lack of consent, whether the accused caused that state or merely took advantage of it.

    Furthermore, the minimum age at which people are considered mentally able to consent to sexual activity would be raised from 13 to 16. However, the revisions include a close-in-age exemption for those from 13 to 15, limiting punishment to perpetrators who are at least five years older than their victims.

    The draft would also extend the statute of limitations for sex crimes by five years in principle. For those under 18, who are often slow in reporting damage from crimes, a provision was included to add the time until the victim has turned 18 onto the period of the statute of limitations.

    (Japanese original by Masakatsu Yamamoto, Tokyo City News Department)

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