Hi Paula, can you tell us about your own story? Where are you from and how did you come to Japan ?
I am thirty-three years old and I’ve moved around a lot. I’m originally from New Jersey, though for many years now I’ve also considered Pittsburgh a home. I first traveled to Japan as an undergraduate in 2007. I was studying abroad for a semester at Kansai Gaidai during my junior year. I would later return to Japan in 2009 to study at the Inter-University Center for Japanese Language Studies in Yokohama for a year during my Master’s degree, and briefly spent a couple weeks in 2014 visiting Sendai for an oral history project. As a PhD Candidate, I stayed in Japan for two years for research at the University of Tokyo, first as a Fulbright fellow (2014- 2015) and then as a Japan Foundation fellow (2015-2016). I recently completed my PhD in History at the University of Michigan, specializing in premodern Japanese history.
How and why did you start Shinpai deshou?
I started What can I do with a B.A. in Japanese Studies? (affectionately known as Shinpai
Deshou) in 2010, when I was still a Master’s student. This was almost a decade ago, and things were very different then in terms of how much information was out there on the internet for people interested in Japanese Studies. Searching for graduate schools, future employment related to Japan, library and archival resources, scholarship, advice for living or working abroad… it was difficult to find. And even though I had stellar mentors, they often reminded me that their experiences were limited to specific areas or subjects, and that I should ask as many people as I could to find out about X or Y. I was frustrated that there was no central hub of information and guidance from many different people with many different backgrounds, and I also felt that I had experiences and advice of my own that could be useful to others. If something was particularly difficult for me and I had the ability to make it easier for someone else, why not do that? This has always been the logic behind the blog, and many of the other projects that I’m a part of.
What kind of feedback have you received since you published it in the first place?
Since posting the resources on sexual assault in Japan list I’ve had several people reach out to express their appreciation for it or to add more information of which I might not have been aware. Though it’s fewer people than one might think (some of whom were themselves
survivors of sexual assault), I’m glad that it’s had even the smallest impact. Broad societal
changes are not something that happen overnight, nor can we always see the influence that we have in an immediate way. But individuals can have their entire lives upturned by these
experiences, and suddenly; if this list helps ameliorate that trauma in any way or gives them
options and support they didn’t know they had before, then it’s worth publishing, even if I never hear from a single person.
What do you think about victims treatment in Japan? and then compared to your home-
Japan has a long way to go in developing adequate responses to sexual assault and those who experience it. This is true for many countries, including the U.S., but it is particularly urgent in Japan, where both cultural and legal responses to sexual assault significantly disadvantage victims. Women are frequently discouraged from reporting what they experience, and even if they do, they often suffer secondary victimization from ill-trained officials (even those who mean well). Even then, legal repercussions rarely occur. We have seen in many recent examples of highly publicized cases of sexual assault that victims are blamed for “not resisting enough” or potentially ruining the careers or lives of their attackers. There is a deeply-held stigma against addressing these underlying attitudes that put the burdens of proof, resistance, and decorum on women. This bias seeps into larger institutional structures that work instead to defend the criminals that perpetrated the crimes. In turn, it negatively affects other groups, such as men and non-binary persons, who also experience assault and are even less likely have their experiences taken seriously. Conversations about these issues are gaining more traction in the public eye in recent years, but definitely occur more openly and with more gravity in other countries.
When you are a victim of a sexual assault in Japan, what is the first thing you should do?
I am not in a position to tell another person what action they should take after they have been sexually assaulted. What is safe and appropriate for their circumstances or physical and
emotional well-being is highly individualized. If they do feel that they can and desire to report the assault, I would encourage them to do so. To ignore these crimes contributes to a system that already attempts to render them invisible or make light of their occurrence. But it is also important to recognize that not everyone is prepared to or may even be capable of reporting for legal, personal, or other reasons. Determining what’s right for oneself should be a priority.
Do you have a message for Voice Up Japan readers ?
As stated above, determining what’s right for yourself should be a priority. It’s important to take care of your physical and mental health as much as possible and seek the advice of those you trust. Having a community that supports you, whether family, friends, or colleagues, can make all the difference in these decisions. And if you feel capable of pursuing justice through official channels, remember that you do not have to do any of this alone. Don’t hesitate to consult people and organizations that offer help to those who have had similar experiences.
One of the problems I had while trying to get help was the response “we simply don’t have
information on that”; I created the resource list on sexual assault in hopes of combating this
excuse, so that in the future others do not encounter this same road block and institutions or
companies cannot irresponsibly claim the information is not available to them. Even if you have never personally experienced sexual assault, I encourage you to reach out to the places where you work and study and provide them with this list. No one should have to do this alone.