By Rhea Endo
Tuesday, March 17th, was a big day for Voice Up Japan. Along with Spring, Human Rights now and a few other organisations, we presented 94,231 signatures to the minister of justice, Masako Mori, to officially demand a legal reform of the law regarding sexual violence.
On March 17th Mio Kodama and myself represented Voice Up Japan to submit a petition to the minister of justice Masako Mori demanding legal reform for the law regarding sexual violence, along with advocacy organisations Spring, Human Rights Now, and many others. The petition asked for a revision of the penal code to make sex without consent a crime (English version here).
The petition started in April last year on the online petition sitechange.org, after a father accused of sexually abusing his daughter since she was in junior high school was acquitted, though the ruling was overturned by a higher court this month. On June 24th last year, 45,875 signatures were handed to the ministry of justice by Voice Up Japan, Spring, and Human Rights Now.
The number of signatures has been steadily growing ever since, and reached nearly 100,000 on 17th March, 2020, a significant number that shows a growing awareness of the issue of sexual violence in Japan. Minister Mori acknowledged during the brief meeting that a swift legal reform that takes into account the voices of victims is necessary.
The current penal code regarding sexual violence requires “physical assault, intimidation, incapacitation, or inability to refuse” for a rape crime to be established, according to the online petition. In cases where the victim gets drunk, their body freezes, or a boss or parent uses their superiority to have forced sex, perpetrators would not be punished at all. A 2017 study conducted by the Cabinet Office found that 7.8% of women and 1.5% of men have experienced rape, yet only 1,307 cases were recognised by the police in 2018.
With the current law not protecting victims and perpetrators being allowed to walk free, I fear that sexual violence will continue to be ‘acceptable’ and victims will be forced into silence. But Mio Kodama, who attended the meeting with the Minister, is hopeful for the future. “Meeting the Minister and hearing her enthusiasm for legal reform was a valuable, positive experience for our organisation’s future activities.”
This year marks a revision of the penal code, done once every 3 years. Kazuko Ito, lawyer and secretary general of nonprofit organisation Human Rights Now, remarked during the press conference that the revision should include making unconsensual sex and sex using superior status a crime, and raising the sexual consent age, which is currently 13. I also pointed out that many student organisations in Japan are working to spread sexual consent in universities, so “the government should act as a role model for students.”
We must continue to voice up and create a society where victims are protected. Sex without consent is a crime.
【Sign the petition!】
Numbers mean a great deal, and the more the better, because it shows a desire for change. Signing the petition on change.org is easy – just type in your name and hit the “sign this petition” button. Your voice matters.