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Japanese pastors, newspapers sued for defaming abuse victim

A civil court ruled that the woman was sexually abused by a chaplain in a Christian-run hospital in Tokyo in 2017

The lack of protection for women alleging sexual assault has been the subject of protests in Japan in recent years.

The lack of protection for women alleging sexual assault has been the subject of protests in Japan in recent years. (Photo: Charly Triballeau/AFP/Getty Images)

Published: September 23, 2023 05:31 AM GMT

Updated: September 23, 2023 05:40 AM GMT

A Japanese woman who was sexually assaulted by a chaplain in a Christian-run hospital has sued three pastors and two Christian newspapers for publicly alleging she lied about her ordeal, says a report.

The unnamed woman filed a defamation lawsuit in the Tokyo District Court on Sept. 21, seeking 3.3 million yen ($22,300) in damages and the removal of the newspaper articles, Asahi Shimbun reported on Sept. 22.

During a press conference in Tokyo on the same day, the woman alleged that the statement from the pastors and the newspaper articles that carried the statement “victimized” her for the second time in 2018.

She reported to police after the chaplain, who provides mental care at St. Luke’s International Hospital in Tokyo, abused her in 2017 while undergoing treatment for an intractable disease, according to the lawsuit, the report stated.

Prosecutors analyzed the chaplain’s case “on suspicion of forcible indecency” but decided not to indict him in December 2018.

In 2022, the Tokyo District Court ruled that the chaplain’s actions constituted sexual abuse and ordered him and the hospital to pay 1.1 million yen in compensation to the woman.

On Sept. 19, 2018, a female pastor at a church in Yokohama published a statement jointly with a group called “the association supporting and protecting pastor A.”

“The chaplain, who had sincerely cared for patients, was falsely accused,” the statement said.

The Christ Newspaper and the Christian Newspaper quoted this statement in their articles.

Two other pastors requested support for the chaplain on Facebook, saying, “We believe the statement is true and we agree with it.”

The woman argues that these statements and articles clearly gave the impression that she is a liar who made false accusations about the chaplain.

“The psychological distress caused by secondary victimization of sexual violence is as bad as the primary victimization,” she said. “I have not received a proper apology, and I’m still hurting.”

The female pastor who published the statement said: “I have apologized for hurting the plaintiff with my statement, and I have retracted it.

“But I would like to have a legal judgment determine whether or not the content of the statement constitutes defamation.”

The Christ Newspaper said the woman’s lawsuit “came out of the blue.”

“We have responded by deleting the article containing the statement upon the plaintiff’s request,” the newspaper said, Asahi Shimbun reported.

The article published by the Christian Newspaper is still available online.

“We have no comment because we cannot contact the representative [of the newspaper],” said Word of Life Press Ministries, a religious corporation that operates the newspaper.

Under Japan’s Penal Code sexual crimes including rape warrant a minimum of five years imprisonment.

However, sexual crimes against women are rampant in the country. In 2020, a government survey found a third of working women faced sexual abuse at their workplace.

The same year, an online survey among 5,899 victims of sexual abuse by the non-profit organization, Spring, found that only 30 percent reported the damage to police or support groups.

It also found many women face difficulties acknowledging abusive acts as sexual violence and refrain from reporting due to social stigma.

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