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Reporting worsens Japan’s child abuse victims’ suffering

The denial of help from adults to children facing sexual abuse can traumatize them, activist says
Japan saw protests in 2019 after a series of rape and sexual abuse acquittals. A new online survey found many victims of sexual abuse endure more suffering in their childhood after reporting their ordeal.

Japan saw protests in 2019 after a series of rape and sexual abuse acquittals. A new online survey found many victims of sexual abuse endure more suffering in their childhood after reporting their ordeal. (Photo: AFP)

Published: November 21, 2023 11:28 AM GMT
Updated: November 21, 2023 11:44 AM GMT

About 39 percent of sexual abuse victims in Japan have endured more suffering during childhood after reporting and seeking help from others, says a survey report.

Some 218 out of 683 abuse victims surveyed by the Tokyo-based support group, Onara, said they consulted a third party for help and 63.3 percent received no positive response, the Mainichi reported on Nov. 21.

Another 39 percent answered that the abuse got worse, while only 6.9 percent answered that things improved and 6.4 percent said they received temporary protection, the report stated.

The group shared the details of the online survey conducted in September among abuse victims, now aged 18 or older, during a press conference on Nov. 19. The respondents included 62 men and 589 women.

The group’s head Tsugumi Okazaki said that the denial of help from adults to children facing sexual abuse can traumatize them

"Children who are abused are emotionally traumatized, so when they ask for help and are denied, they tend to feel that no one will help them anymore,” Okazaki said.

“How the adults around them react is very important," Okazaki added.

Karen Makishima, Japan’s former Minister of Digital Affairs, Arisa Yamaguchi a pediatric psychiatrist, and Ami Takahashi director of the abuse victim support center Yuzuriha attended the press conference.

The survey results revealed the changes in the abuse situation after reporting.

Abuse increased after reporting

Takahashi pointed out that some of the victims could face increased abuse after reporting to a third party who may reveal the details to the abuser.

"If a child talks to a schoolteacher, their parents may find out and the abuse could get even worse," Takahashi said.

Through multiple option questions, the survey revealed the details of the people to whom the abuse victims had confided about their situation.

Around 54.1 percent of the respondents said that they had reported sexual abuse to their teachers.

This was followed by relatives (40.4 percent of respondents), friends (28.9 percent), and adults in the neighborhood (22 percent).

The survey also revealed details of the public institutions that the victims approached to report abuse.

Around 21.6 percent of respondents said they had talked to the police, 17.9 percent said they had sought help from child consultation centers, and 7.8 percent said they sought help from government offices.

Changes in outdated laws

In June, Japan’s parliament enacted laws to criminalize nonconsensual sexual acts even in the absence of physical violence or coercion, Kyodo News reported.

One of the key changes was to raise the age of sexual consent from 13 to 16 which had remained unchanged for more than a century and was one of the lowest among developed nations.

The amended law also criminalized “upskirting” and other forms of capturing sexualized images of people without their consent.

The revisions also aimed to better clarify the illegality of nonconsensual sexual offenses such as rape. Rape was renamed "forcible sexual intercourse" when Japan revised its Penal Code in 2017.

According to the revised laws, sexual acts conducted in situations where a person may struggle to "form, express or fulfill the intention to resist" will also be subject to potential punishment, Kyodo News reported.

Examples cited were situations involving assault, the victim being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, or the perpetrator abusing their economic or social power.

The legislature had also extended the statute of limitations for prosecution of nonconsensual intercourse to 15 years from 10 years.

The latest legal revisions say if a victim is below the age of 18, the statute of limitations will not commence until the victim turns 18 -- the legal age of adulthood.

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