Discussing sex crimes and Japan's 'safety myth'

A selection of online and email responses to Rachel Halle’s Foreign Agenda column, which appeared in print on Dec. 9:

Safety myth applies to whom?

Japan is indeed a quite safe country — if you are a straight male. If not, then the “safety Japan” myth quickly falls apart, especially if you happen to be an Asian female.

Between incredible levels of under-/non-reporting by authorities, police being uninterested in investigating cases of sexual assault, victim-blaming and the social stigma of being raped, it really cannot be said that Japan is a safe country for women. Sure, you’re less likely to be the subject of a violent mugging at knife point like you may be in London, but you’re many orders of magnitude more likely to be molested or otherwise sexually assaulted.

Ron NJ, while I agree with most of your post, I disagree with this: “Japan is indeed quite a safe country — if you are a straight male.”

Speak for yourself. I am a straight white male and I have been assaulted — and have also watched another white male foreigner get assaulted — in Japan. In neither case did either of us make the first physically aggressive move.

I lived in America, a “dangerous” country, for 14 years. Excluding schoolyard fights, which are inevitable for boys in any country, especially in elementary/middle school, I was never attacked in public, not even a single time.

Am I saying that America is safer than Japan? No. What I am saying is:

• No country, not even Japan, is completely safe. And perhaps Japan’s reputation for being oh-so-safe is a little bit undeserved, because . . .

• Most people who are the victim of a violent crime do not report it in Japan, so the official statistics are wrong.

• As a gaijin [foreigner], crime statistics do not apply. Japan is 98-percent Japanese, and so the crime statistics mostly reflect the likelihood of a Japanese person being the victim of the crime, not a gaijin.

Gaijin stand out in the crowd and are more likely to attract unwanted attention than Japanese people. I would not be surprised if gaijin are assaulted at 10 times the rate of Japanese people. I have many male gaijin friends who have been attacked in “safe” parts of Asia, and many female gaijin friends who have been groped or even date-raped. I cannot give you a specific number, but I have heard of so many assaults and sex offenses directly from the people who experienced them that I cannot believe the official figures, at least in the case of gaijin.

• The statistics are for the countries as a whole, so they need to be taken with a grain of salt. Crime rates vary wildly within a country. I would rather walk through Fairfax, Virginia, at night than Kabukicho, Tokyo, or some of the seedier parts of Osaka like Tobita. And I would rather walk through sleepy, peaceful Izuhara city, Tsushima Island, at night than I would through Detroit.

Which city (or even, which neighborhood) often matters far more than which country. It would be dumb to base any important life decision (such as where to live) on crime statistics for an entire continent or an entire hemisphere. I would argue that doing so for a country is almost as bad.


Why Japan is the weak link

Japan treats [sex assault] victims worse, because Japan tends to be more sexist, more paternal and more slut-shaming than the U.S., U.K. and Europe. As the article points out, Japan doesn’t have enough infrastructure in place to help victims recover, and they are behind in their investigation techniques — this includes things like re-traumatizing the victim by forcing them to recreate the crime, and not allowing victims immediate access to a hospital for a rape kit right away. What’s more, there are no special prosecutors for sex crimes, and the investigators also tend to be men. This is in contrast to the U.S., where they are always women.

As the article noted, the punishment for rape is much less severe; and Japan actually has two different definitions of rape, which is shocking. Rape is rape; there shouldn’t be a distinction, much less a legal one, between “kind of but not rape” and “rape-rape.” In the U.S., all rape is classified as rape, and even though there are terms such as “statutory rape,” all of them carry the same nuance.

Also, Japan tends to be more closed-mouth about sex crimes, because it is generally taboo in Japanese society to speak about sex. The U.S. is still conservative, but it is much more open about that, so victim advocacy and recovery as well as flaws in the system are openly and publicly discussed often. This allows changes in the law that benefit victims, such as California’s new “enthusiastic consent” law. This would never fly in Japan.

Also, in Japan there is a statute of limitations on child molestation. In the U.S., there is not.

I could go on, but I think you get the picture.

There is an overall tendency for Japan to be weaker in all of these areas. To deny this is to completely deny that there are any cultural or social or political differences between different countries, which is absurd.

To criticize these aspects of Japan is not racism, either, which is something often implied in posts. I have lived here for my entire adult life, love Japan, love the people, and criticize it because I want it to get better, not because I am a racist who only sees the bad.


Little has changed in 40 years

Rachel, thank you for having the courage to share your story. I hope you’ve been able to get real support from friends, family and a rape crisis center. Please don’t give up on pursuing the real support you deserve, especially if you have not been able to get it yet. I’m so sorry you were re-victimized by the law-enforcement system in Japan.

I lived in Japan for many years almost 40 years ago. I was an exchange student at a respected university north of Tokyo for my first year there. A fellow exchange student was raped by a stranger (a construction worker working on a not-yet-completed campus building). The student was punished by the administration for having been raped by being kicked out of the program and sent home. When a group of us met with the administration to advocate for our fellow student to be supported and not punished, we were told that they would take our passports away and send us home as well if we pursued the matter further. Unfortunately, we dropped our advocacy efforts at that point.

During the many years I ended up living in Japan, I often heard stories from my students (high school, college and adult) about rapes and sexual assaults they had suffered through with no help available. Some of these criminal attacks were at the hands of strangers, but as is commonly the case in many countries, far more often they were at the hands of relatives or other people known to the survivors.

The vast majority of the students who approached me to share their stories had never told anyone about their victimization previously. The years of holding their pain and ongoing suffering inside due to a culture that pathologizes victims as the perpetrators took an enormous toll on everyone.

While the details of your rape are different, it is disheartening — though not surprising — to hear how 40 years later, not very much has changed in Japan when it comes to law-enforcement responses to rape.

I personally think that the moral character, ethics and quality of life in any country should be judged in part by the rates of sexual victimization and the typical responses to survivors of those crimes. When it comes to Japan, it’s long overdue for the entire country to stop talking the talk and to start walking the walk.


Troubling editorial judgment

Not to deny that rapes of all kinds occur in Japan, nor to comment on the issue of appropriate police handling of accusations of rape, but some, including the writer of the headline, seem to have missed the point that the accused rapist in this case wasn’t Japanese.

I was also surprised, to be honest, that a newspaper agreed to print this. Whilst the writer’s account of her experiences with the police can most likely be verified to have happened, the account of the events leading to that cannot. A public accusation of rape has now been made (albeit anonymously on both sides) in a very public medium and I don’t like the idea that the accuser could now threaten to make the identity of the accused known from the (legal) safety of abroad without having to answer to due legal process here.


Oliver, why does it matter that he’s not Japanese? Your logic escapes me, and I can only say that the nationality or ethnicity of a criminal shouldn’t have any bearing whatsoever on whether the crime is reported or prosecuted, or on their apparent guilt or innocence.

It’s also nonsensical to say her story is less believable due to her anonymity. Did you not read, or just not comprehend, the part where she speaks of the shame, guilt and stigma of rape — not to mention trauma that women go through in the form of hearing comments just like yours?

You, sir, your attitude — your rape apologism — is exactly why women either don’t report or else speak only anonymously.

Additionally, her entire purpose for writing this has apparently escaped you, even though it was clearly laid out in the concluding paragraph. It’s not an accusation. It’s a call for action to improve the law and police response to rape.

So even on the off — very, very off — chance her story isn’t true, it doesn’t matter, because her experience with the police and the inadequacy of the legal system is what we should be worried about.

You’d better thank your lucky stars that neither you (men can be raped, too) or someone close to you has never had to deal with sexual assault. And you’d better think more deeply about why exactly women are disbelieved, shamed and prosecution is so difficult with this most heinous and traumatising of crimes.


If a substantial number of unreported rapes are occurring every year, then the headline is accurate. Japan is not as safe as the statistics suggest.

And the fact that rape can be difficult to prosecute may not reflect on the safety of Japan, but it certainly “points at a gap” in the legal system.

If the legal system is flawed, then the nationalities of attacker and victim do not matter.

At no point in the article does the author reveal, or show an inclination to reveal, the identity of her alleged attacker, so I do not think any journalistic ethics have been violated either.


What’s at issue here is the lack of support and sensitivity for the victim (the perpetrator’s nationality is irrelevant). At the very least the police should have determined the jurisdiction before making the victim relive such a horrible ordeal. That level of incompetence and insensitivity is astounding!


Justice doesn’t always prevail

Rachel “pseudonym” Halle actually thought that the Japanese police would rush to her aid and thoroughly investigate a possible rape case? What sort of fantasy world is Rachel living in? Didn’t she do her homework before arriving in Japan? She’ll be taking home a very bitter lesson in this vale of tears: Justice doesn’t always prevail.

And what, Rachel, were you doing all by your lonesome in the alleged rapist’s apartment after you repeatedly told the sick bastard that you didn’t want to have sex with him? If he was that intent on “having you,” why didn’t you avoid him altogether? You yourself said that the rapist was a “new” acquaintance? All the more reason that you should’ve shown far more caution.

At the very least, why didn’t you have a trusted friend accompany you when you visited the rapist? You apparently trusted this fellow foreigner and he finally raped you. He just wasn’t going to take “no” for an answer, was he? Perhaps you insulted his fragile male ego?

If your criminal case against the rapist had gone to trial, the defendant’s “pitbull attack dog” attorney would’ve put you through a harrowing cross-examination meat grinder when you were called upon to testify. His questions in the courtroom would’ve made the kōban [police box] interrogations you’ve already had to endure seem like a sidewalk marketing survey by comparison.

Very likely the rapist knows far more about Japan’s lax sex crime laws than you’ll ever hope to. And what’s worse, you probably weren’t his first victim, and most likely you won’t be his last.

No, you are not to blame. The individual who raped you should be prosecuted for his crime, but we don’t live in a world where justice always prevails, do we? This is something that you yourself made very clear in your JT article.

Statistics are often used to conceal the truth. Japan wants the world to think that it is a relatively safe, crime-free society. I once believed this very same myth back when I first arrived here. Live and learn, eh? Life is the harshest, most unforgiving tutor of all.

Otaru, Hokkaido

Minimizing risks of rape

As a woman brought up in another century, under the steely influence of flats-wearing feminists like Germaine Greer, I fail to sympathize unconditionally with Rachel Halle’s plight. Contrary to your pontifical headline, Japan’s overall public safety is in no way a “myth.” Rachel’s difficulties took place in a private space that she entered freely and over which legal controls, in any culture, are limited and problematic.

Given Japan’s rape laws quoted in the article, it seems to me the police treated Rachel fairly and reasonably. They cannot be expected to take action based on laws obtaining in countries other than their own. The female officer who advised Rachel to think it over carefully, etc., strikes me as having been kind and sensible, considering Japan’s particular legal circumstances. On appropriate support groups, which may or may not exist, Rachel must just do her own research.

I was carefully taught by my mother, from an early age, behavioral and self-defense maneuvers to keep close encounters from veering towards the dangerous. Her methods have served me well over several decades of taking responsibility for myself in private spaces. In that century, female self-reliance was an ideal to strive for. We had the sense to know we needed to take care of ourselves because no one else was about to do it for us.

No matter how many times we asked him nicely.


It needs to be noted that legal systems based on the principles of witness testimony, forensic evidence and innocence until proven guilty have great difficulty in proving rape, and thus convicting, in cases where no witnesses exist except the two parties involved and the lack of consent cannot be demonstrated by forensics (i.e., when trace-leaving violence was not used, as in the above case). Finding such evidence requirements as “unreasonable” will not alter that fact. Of course, counselling and support for victims of rape, whether they can find justice under such a system or not, is incredibly important and is clearly lacking in Japan.

The nature of the modern legal system also, however, reinforces the need to prevent rape occurring in the first place, some of which could be achieved quickly if certain precautions were taken. Several posters have tried to make this point (but have made it very indelicately indeed) but have been accused of blaming the victim.

I would like to responsibly point out that there is a difference between advocating sensible caution and blaming the victim. Some posters here have used the analogy of wearing an expensive watch and being robbed. The point, I feel, is not that wearing the watch makes it excusable to steal it, but rather that people would be well-advised not to wear such a watch (or carry large amounts of cash, or whatever) in areas known to have a higher risk of theft.

There is a difference between what ideally should happen (no theft at all and people being free to wear and display whatever watch they like) and what actually tends to happen in reality, currently. With the issue of rape, such “high-risk areas” would be: being alone with a male, particularly in his residence; the consumption of alcohol by the male; and engaging in activities other than intercourse that increase sexual arousal, amongst others.

To reiterate, none of this ever makes it “right” to rape, or the victim’s “fault” that it occurred, but it certainly makes it more likely to occur. This is part of what the writer points out as being highly necessary education. Obviously, men also need a lot of education, particularly regarding the moral unacceptability of rape, as well as the physical and mental trauma it causes victims.

I think all reasonable people will agree on the need to get incidence of rape down to zero. I speak as a father of a daughter.


Education is happening

In my uni there are pamphlets about sexual harassment, and the special word sekuhara exists in Japan, as you probably know. We have twice-a-year interviews with our mentors where we can complain about anything regarding life in Japan, and female students are specifically asked about sexual harassment.

From time to time all students get circular mails about suspicious cases (e.g., if someone thought he/she was stalked, but not attacked) and reminders to escort female friends home if they stay late at the lab, a party or wherever.

I’ve heard my professor advocating for female independence and equality on numerous occasions, talking to the predominantly male class.

So, this education thing is going on as we speak, but it takes time.


In cases where a location is not included below the author’s credit, comments have been taken from the JT website. Have your say: community@japantimes.co.jp

Coronavirus banner