Japan altered several of its laws regarding sex crimes, which were over a century old, on Friday.
Parliament has raised the age of sexual consent from 13, one of the lowest age limits in the world, to 16. Changes to the law make having sexual intercourse with anyone below the age of 16 rape or “consentless sex crime”.
Reforms to better protect women and children are being made as well as providing stricter punishments for assailants.
“We … would like to express our deepest gratitude to all the victims of sexual violence who have raised their voices together with us,” Spring, a survivor advocacy group, said on Friday. “Our earnest wish is that those who have been victims of sexual violence will find hope in their lives, and that sexual violence will disappear from Japanese society.”
Friday’s session specified eight consentless sex crimes which include being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, intimidation, fear, and assault. These crimes are now punishable with up to 15 years in prison. The statute of limitations was also raised by five years to 10 years, giving survivors more time to come forward. According to a 2021 survey by Japan's Gender Equality Bureau, one in 14 women have been raped or sexually assaulted in the East Asian country. That same report determined that less than half of the survivors report the crime.
The outdated laws would only attempt to prosecute where the victim proved they attempted to fight back and required evidence of “intent to resist”. Survivors rarely reported their assaults and assailants often went unpunished. Previous laws largely ignored the complexity of the crime as well as the fact that some victims could be too afraid or incapacitated to resist.
The new laws place an emphasis on the concept of consent and come after more than four years of protests called the Flower Demo. It began after a controversial case in 2019 where a father raped his 19-year-old daughter in Nagoya. The court concluded that he did indeed use force and that the sex was non-consensual, however, according to the court she could have fought back against him. He was acquitted and this decision sparked nationwide outrage and protests.
“Discussing sexual violence from the victim’s viewpoint is a world trend, and it’s time to reform the Japanese legal system and society that cannot do that,” said Minori Kitahara, an author and activist, to Reuters when the Nagoya case first happened.
His acquittal was later overturned but activists were determined to keep protesting until legislative change was enacted.
In addition to the new definitions of rape and the extension of the statute of limitations, legislation regarding “photo voyeurism” was created. Photo voyeurism or “upskirting” is the act of taking exploitative photos without someone’s consent. This crime is now punishable with up to three years in prison.
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