In the aftermath of a traumatic sexu@l assault incident, Megumi Okano found little solace in the knowledge that the perpetrator would likely evade punishment.
Despite possessing information about the assailant’s identity and whereabouts, Megumi opted against reporting the incident to the police.
The reason behind this decision stemmed from their understanding that Japanese authorities were unlikely to categorize the incident as r@pe, highlighting a glaring flaw in the existing legal framework.
As a university student, Megumi expresses the pain of seeing their assailant continue to lead a carefree existence, as justice seemed elusive in the absence of adequate legal provisions.
However, a glimmer of hope emerges on the horizon. Presently, the Japanese parliament engages in a critical discourse surrounding a groundbreaking bill aimed at overhauling the country’s sexu@l assault laws.
Remarkably, this represents only the second revision to occur in a century. While the bill encompasses several proposed changes, the most significant alteration involves redefining r@pe from “forcible sexu@l intercourse” to “non-consensual sexu@l intercourse.”
This revision aims to address the prevailing lack of understanding surrounding consent within Japanese society, allowing for a more nuanced interpretation of sexu@l assault.
Under current Japanese legislation, r@pe is defined as sexu@l ¡ntercourse or indecent acts perpetrated through force, assault, intimidation, taking advantage of an individual’s unconscious state or inability to resist.
This definition diverges from the broader definitions adopted by many other countries, wherein any non-consensual sexu@l act is classified as r@pe, with “no means no” serving as a fundamental principle.
Advocates argue that Japan’s narrow definition has given rise to even narrower interpretations by prosecutors and judges, setting an impossibly high threshold for justice and fostering a culture of skepticism that discourages survivors from reporting their assaults.
In the days following their ordeal, Megumi, a law student, meticulously studied the penal code and analyzed precedents, only to realize that their experience failed to meet the court’s criteria of “assault and intimidation.”
The proposed law seeks to explicitly outline eight scenarios in which victims encounter difficulties in expressing or fulfilling their intention not to consent.
These scenarios include instances where the victim is under the influence of alcohol or drugs, subject to violence or threats, or experiencing fear and astonishment.
Furthermore, one scenario seemingly addresses situations involving an abuse of power, where victims express concern over potential disadvantages should they refuse to comply.
Additionally, the bill raises the age of consent to 16 years and extends the statute of limitations.
Critics argue that the scenarios outlined in the bill lack clarity, potentially impeding prosecutors in their efforts to establish charges.
Furthermore, some contend that the statute of limitations should be further extended and emphasize the need for enhanced protections for minor survivors.
Nevertheless, if the reforms pass, they would signify a long-awaited triumph for advocates who have relentlessly campaigned for change.
Kazuko Ito, vice-president of Tokyo-based Human Rights Now, hopes that even the mere act of altering the law’s title will spark crucial conversations in Japan, fostering a deeper understanding of consent and non-consent.
However, time is of the essence. The upper house of the Diet, Japan’s parliament, must pass the bill by June 21.
Yet, the ongoing immigration debate has embroiled the legislative body, casting doubt on the timely resolution of the sexu@l assault reforms.
Activists have vehemently decried the delay as “unacceptable” and implore lawmakers to take immediate action.
However, activists stress that the reforms only address a single facet of the overarching problem. Their call for change extends far beyond the confines of the courtroom.
Sexu@l assault remains a taboo subject in Japan, gaining national attention only in recent years due to high-profile cases such as Shiori Ito’s legal battle, sexu@l assault survivor Rina Gonoi’s public statements, and the Johnny Kitagawa exposé.
Kazuko Ito contends that part of the issue lies in generations of Japanese individuals being raised with distorted notions of s€x and sexu@l consent.
Sakura Kamitani, a lawyer and rights advocate, advocates for increased financial and psychological support for sexu@l assault survivors.
However, Kamitani also emphasizes the importance of offering assistance to perpetrators, given the high rate of recidivism in s€x crimes.
Prevention, she asserts, should remain a focal point to avert further victimization.
Nevertheless, the immediate priority for activists is ensuring the passage and implementation of the reforms, thereby encouraging survivors to come forward and report their cases.
Ms. Ito underscores the necessity of ensuring that the reforms go beyond superficial changes and genuinely offer salvation to victims.
Megumi, on the other hand, expresses a cautious willingness to consider reporting their own assault to the police if the law undergoes revision, albeit not immediately.
Megumi, who identifies as gender-fluid, has shifted their focus toward advocating for sexu@l assault survivors and sexu@l minority rights while aspiring to establish a law firm dedicated to supporting these marginalized groups.
Witnessing a glimmer of hope, Megumi finds solace in the growing realization that the current distorted and unjust state of affairs will undergo significant change.
They firmly believe in the potential for rapid progress if everyone unites in their collective endeavor to rectify the wrongs that persist. Megumi’s resounding message echoes, urging all to embrace a proactive stance in effecting transformative change together.