Two years after the accusation that brought the #MeToo movement to Japanese headlines, a court has ordered former reporter Noriyuki Yamaguchi to pay 3.3 million yen in damages to Shiori Ito.
In 2017, Shiori Ito came forward to accuse Yamaguchi of raping her in 2015 when she was an intern at Reuters and Yamaguchi the Washington bureau chief for the Tokyo Broadcasting System.
After Ito accused Yamaguchi, a media storm followed with many people chiming in; and while Ito received a lot of support from people, she also had to endure criticism and even threats. Many conservative outlets ended up supporting Yamaguchi, presumably in part due to his ties to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and victim-blaming Shiori Ito.
The presiding judge in the civil case, Akihiro Suzuki, stated that there was no reason for Ito to lie and make false statements. He added that Yamaguchi’s statement had “changed an unreasonable amount, raising serious doubts about its credibility.”
Even though Ito took the case to the police, there were no criminal charges because the police mentioned there was a lack of evidence. Additionally, Ito was told to reenact the rape using a life-sized mannequin because the police considered it essential to the investigation.
The terrible treatment Ito received when going to the police followed by the criticism she received after coming forward in 2017 to make the allegations public are some of the many reasons that Japanese women don’t report rape cases.
A survey in 2017 found out that about 3.7% of sexual assault victims go to the police to report the rapes.
As a result, Shiori Ito’s victory has become a torch for sexual assault victims, and the ruling has been applauded across social media. However, the civil case is just the first milestone in what feels like climbing an enormous mountain. Since the criminal case was dropped due to lack of evidence, Ito felt encouraged to file a civil case, seeking 11 million yen in compensation. Yamaguchi followed with a counter-suit seeking an astonishing 130 million yen in compensation, but the court rejected it.
The case illustrates the many problems in the Japanese judicial system. One of the most pressing issues is that the law requires proof that victims were unable to resist the attacks because of violence or threats, creating a gigantic loophole that has resulted in multiple not guilty verdicts. As a reminder, less than 4% if sexual assault victims in Japan report the crimes to the police, and since the laws are working against them, they serve as a deterrents instead of helping victims report the crimes.
That’s why the victory in this civil case is just the beginning of a much larger battle to change and create laws that help sexual assault victims.
Japan is taking steps in the right direction, though, just recently increasing the minimum sentence for rape to five years.