What is it like to speak out about sexual assault? What does the actual lawsuit process look like? Voice Up Japan spoke with an American Ex-JET teacher who filed a lawsuit against the Nagasaki government over incidents of sexual harassment and sexual assault.
An American teacher, who goes by the name Sasebo Anon to protect her identity, grew up in Chicago, in the Midwest of the United States. After having studied abroad in Spain and China, she joined the Japan Exchange and Teaching Program (JET Program) to teach English in Nagasaki after college. She initially joined the program because one of her professors who had taken part in the program recommended it to her. During her two years in Japan, she experienced sexual harassment, from the vice president of one of the schools she was teaching at, and sexual assault from another assistant language teacher. Sasebo Anon shared with Voice Up Japan her story about her decision to pursue a lawsuit against the Nagasaki government.
How was your experience filing a lawsuit against the prefectural government? How did you feel about the whole process?
It was a little bit difficult in the beginning because I was not sure where to find a lawyer and I was not sure if my case was going to be taken. When I first talked to the Nagasaki Board of Education, they told me not to go to the police because they will be handling it on their own. I thought this was very suspicious. I ended up going to the police anyway. The police were of no help, either. They told me, “we are not going to take your case because your JET contract ends soon, and you are not staying in Japan anymore. You are over 13 years old, the age of consent in Japan, and you have no bodily harm. You weren’t threatened with death.” I explained that I was threatened with rape, but they would not take that as an answer. After hearing that from the police, I was worried that I wondered if the lawyer would even take my case because if the police aren’t going to, maybe the lawyer would also have the same opinion.
Luckily, I was able to find a lawyer. My lawyer does not speak English, but a friend of mine from the US who speaks Japanese helps as my translator and we can communicate pretty well. The process is still probably very slow compared to what she usually does, though.
The first thing we did was to send a complaint letter to the Board of Education to see if they would change their decision in not firing the assistant language teacher who assaulted me. On the JET Program contract, there is a list of punishment teachers could receive for behaving inappropriately. The Board of Education chose the lightest punishment from the list for the assistant language teacher. My lawyer and I believe that he should have been punished more harshly since sexual assault is not something that can happen to another staff, student, or community member. After hearing that the Board will not be changing the penalty, we started the lawsuit.
And, how did the lawsuit go?
The first hearing was on October 21st, 2020, and I have had several more since then. I recently did a counterargument to the Board’s arguments on why they thought that they were not responsible for the assault and why I was responsible for it. It is very uncomfortable and difficult to read these victim blaming claims.
The interesting thing that was argued was that they are not responsible for what happened because the teachers that harassed and assaulted me were not at my main school. In the JET Program, teachers would have several schools they teach at. One of those schools is considered their main school. In my case, I taught at a prefectural school that was my main school and at a special education school. I didn’t realize that the Board only protected you at one school. This was surprising and upsetting. I was very angry to see that the safety of the teachers was not a concern when this program was created. This is a program that has been around for a long time and it is really well known in a lot of countries. It was just shocking to see how unprepared they were in handling this problem.
It is brave of you to stand up for yourself and for others’ safety by filing a lawsuit. I am sure it is a difficult process. What inspired you to speak up?
The MeToo movement inspired me to speak up. The movement was growing worldwide at the time and the idea that everybody should be allowed to want justice for themselves was discussed internationally. While many celebrities who spoke up in the MeToo movement had a lot of money and were talking about how difficult it was in their industry, they also emphasized that everybody, even people who are not famous should feel like they could report their assault. In that sense, Shiori Ito also inspired me.
What do you think is the issue regarding sexual assault and harassment? What change do you want to see happen?
In the world in general, I feel that there is a lack of resources. It is difficult for people who want to report harassment or assault because the steps are not clear. I definitely did not know the steps of what I should do. I was just making it up as I went, and I feel like I still am.
In addition, there is also a lack of resources for companies and organizations to turn to when someone in the group has committed harassment or assault. We need more resources to educate the perpetrator and help them understand why their behavior was harmful. The term “cancel culture” has become popular and it has become common to simply punish the person who has done harm. The person may be in the wrong, but I feel that we still need solutions to help them understand the harm and change the behavior, instead of constantly shouting at them. We also need better sex education. Learning what consent looks like is very important, yet we do not emphasize it enough in many countries around the world, including Japan and the US. Understanding consent is crucial to recognizing what is sexual assault or rape.
I say this from my experience confronting the person who sexually assaulted me. When I was explaining to him that what he did to me was sexual assault, it was very clear that he just did not have any understanding why it was and did not believe that what he did was wrong, even though many people who listen to my story would know that it was assault. It was very scary to see that he didn’t understand why what he did was wrong.
Anything you want to share with the readers?
This is a real time lawsuit so it is different from in a movie where you get it done in two hours. My sexual harassment took place in 2016 and the sexual assault, in 2018. Before filing the lawsuit, I was warned, “if you go on this path, it is not going to be done in a year. It might take five years.” I still do not know how long it is going to take, but I am happy to see people following my journey through my social media updates. My posts may be spaced out and inconsistent, but that is just the reality of what an actual lawsuit looks like. It takes a long time.
I have seen other people in JET wondering if they could also follow what I did after a similar experience. However, finding a lawyer and a translator takes time and money, and it is just not financially possible for some people. I was very lucky that I found a lawyer and that I had a friend who could translate.
Pursuing a lawsuit with a case of sexual harassment and sexual assault is time-consuming and emotionally and financially taxing. However, I encourage people to follow my path, if you have the resources. If you want to get justice for something, definitely do it. I hope my story helps with giving a realistic depiction of what pursuing a lawsuit looks like.
Support Sasebo Anon: GoFundMe
Resources in Japan:
SARC Tokyo (English)