We’ve seen how difficult it is for victims of sexual assault in Japan to get even a minimum of justice in the case of Japanese journalist, filmmaker and #MeToo catalyst Ito Shiori. Ito’s historic victory over his rapist – journalist and close friend of former Prime Minister Abe – was well deserved after four years of hard work, and shows that it is not impossible for victims of sexual assault to see their authors punished.
Ito is just one of many voices rising for change. Another victim of sexual abuse currently on the path to justice is photographer Ishida Ikuko, who claims to have been sexually assaulted by a 15-19-year-old high school teacher. Ishida’s trauma and legal battles draw attention to the sexual abuse caused by minors, as well as the difficulties victims face when telling their stories years after their initial trauma.
Ishida’s legal and emotional difficulties
Ishida realized she had been sexually assaulted when she attended a trial in a child prostitution case in 2015, more than 20 years after her initial trauma. She started suffering from flashbacks in 2016 and was officially diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). Ishida admits that the pain of dealing with these flashbacks “made me want to die everyday” and interfered with her work and daily life. That same year, she confronted her attacker, who would still teach. She also sent an investigation to the Sapporo City Council of Education, which yielded no results. The author denied all the allegations, and the BOE left it at that.
Ishida felt she had no choice but to take legal action. In February 2019, she sued the BOE and the teacher, claiming she suffered from PTSD as a result of her trauma. Ishida requested approximately 30 million yen (approximately $ 284,849) in damages. Unfortunately, the 20-year limitation period stood in the way. The statute of limitations for crimes of sexual assault is 10 years. Ishida’s lawyer argued that the statute of limitations should begin in 2016 when Ishida was diagnosed with PTSD. However, this argument failed to convince the court and the case was dismissed.
Ishida appealed to the Tokyo High Court for a second trial. While the judges acknowledged that the teacher had committed several acts of sexual assault against Ishida, such as non-consensual kissing and groping, the High Court dismissed the lawsuit on December 15 based on the deadline for prescription expired.
Kitahara Minori, Sex Toy Shop Owner and Feminist attended the High Court trial. According to Kitahara, the judges did not seriously consider the testimony of a medical expert on the long-term effects of PTSD. There is already a lot of stigma around mental health in Japan, so it’s sad but no surprise that the judges dismissed Ishida’s mental health condition. Kitahara also found the judges’ decision incredibly cruel and revealing of the ignorance of the long-lasting trauma suffered by victims of sexual assault. Ishida herself was quick to question the judges for failing to distinguish between sexual acts and sexual violence.
Survey results reveal a troubling reality
Ishida also attended the Justice Department’s Sex Crimes Review Panel in an attempt to highlight children’s lack of awareness of sexual abuse. Mainichi Shimbun quotes her as saying in a meeting, “Children are unaware of themselves as victims, and until they can face the frightening things that happen to them, they will avoid (think about it).
Ishida conducted a survey earlier this year as part of her ongoing research into sexual abuse in the Japanese education system. Of the 717 usable responses, 42.4% said they had been sexually abused by a teacher, highlighting a disturbing reality of sexual abuse that many, including other teachers, ignore or choose to ignore.
With no centralized sex offender database, it’s all too easy for teachers reprimanded or convicted of child sexual abuse to simply rewrite their past and move on. There are also no specific guidelines in the Penal Code to punish teachers, coaches and other authority figures who sexually abuse children, which advocacy groups hope to change. Talks about connecting GPS devices to registered sex offenders have been underway since this summer. But this plan will only be implemented over the next three years. Until then, more protective measures need to be taken, but Ishida doubts the government really understands what is at stake, saying: “I want the government to have a greater sense of the crisis regarding the state of victims of sexual assault in educational settings ”.
Do not abandon
Ishida and her legal team held a press conference at the Judicial Press Club following the High Court ruling. “I don’t know yet if I will appeal to the Supreme Court or take other action, but I will not give up yet,” Ishida said.
Whether or not she decides to pursue legal remedies, Ishida has already done more than enough to raise awareness about a horrific issue. People were discouraged from speaking out, but she didn’t regret a thing. Perhaps other victims will be encouraged by Ishida’s journey and raise their own voices as well.