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Editorial: Fact-finding top priority over sexual abuse claims against Japan talent mogul

Former Johnny's Jr. singer Kauan Okamoto, right, speaks during a Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan hearing on sexual victimization and child abuse, at the Diet on May 16, 2023. Pictured at rear is actor and dancer Yasushi Hashida, also a former Johnny's Jr. member. (Mainichi/Kan Takeuchi)

Japanese major talent agency Johnny & Associates Inc. has unveiled a set of countermeasures after claims of sexual assault by young talent against its founder, Johnny Kitagawa.

    Firstly, the agency set up a consultation service for those who have experience belonging to the agency. It is said that external experts will provide care for the victims regarding their psychological issues.

    The agency will also launch a special team of third-party individuals to prevent a recurrence, including a former prosecutor general, with the objective of improving the agency's governance. Kazuyuki Shirai, who as a coach contributed to Japan's victory in this year's World Baseball Classic, and two others will serve as external board members.

    Yet the agency's attitude of trying to get to the bottom of the sexual abuse cases still remains to be seen. Sexual violence is a grave human rights violation. Unraveling the actual damage must come first.

    Allegations of sexual assaults by Kitagawa have been pointed out for many years. In a civil lawsuit filed over reports by a weekly magazine, the Supreme Court in 2004 finalized a high court ruling that recognized key parts regarding Kitagawa's sexual harassment in the reports were true.

    And yet, it remains unclear how the agency has responded to the matter as a company since then. If the agency's failure to take action at the time helped further damage to arise, the agency bears grave responsibility as a company.

    In a May press conference, a former member of Johnny & Associates opened up about sexual abuse he suffered from Kitagawa in his early teens. "I urge the agency to admit what happened as facts, and offer an apology to victims and take a response for them," he said.

    The agency has refused to acknowledge whether Kitagawa had sexually assaulted the victims on the grounds that the former president passed away. But providing psychological care to victims and preventing a recurrence would not move ahead without clarifying the actual damage.

    There are limits to what self-cleansing effects can do. An independent third-party committee should be set up to investigate the facts while paying consideration to the privacy of those claiming sexual damage, and release the investigation results.

    In the showbiz industry, complaints about sexual harassment and power harassment are not problems limited to Johnny & Associates. Such harassment tends to occur in closed settings such as filming locations and rehearsal rooms. As many in the industry are freelance workers, they are in a more vulnerable position compared to directors and producers. There are also numerous entertainers who are still minors.

    In many U.S. states, there are laws and other rules to protect the sound growth of children engaged in the entertainment industry.

    There are also calls in Japan for developing laws to protect performers and entertainers. To help promote Japan's arts and culture, harassment must be eradicated from the industry.

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