How-tos | LIFELINES

Tired of government inaction, activist works to make Japan rape crisis center a reality

by Louise George Kittaka

Rape is among the most abhorrent of crimes, and yet too often it is the victims who are left feeling like criminals. If it is still very difficult for victims in Western countries to make their voices heard, things may be harder still in Japan.

Australian Catherine Jane Fisher came up against the Japanese legal system after being raped by an American serviceman near Yokosuka in 2002. Following her report of the ordeal to the Kanagawa police, Fisher then endured 12 hours of interrogation without being offered sustenance or medical attention.

Fisher, a resident of Japan for 35 years, has refused to stay silent, using her horrific experience as a catalyst to work for change here. While her immediate reaction at the lack of support available to her was to leave, she ultimately decided to stay and become an advocate for change.

Fisher started her Warriors Japan organization soon afterward. “I realized that not even one 24-hour, government-funded rape crisis center was available in Japan, and that standard rape test kits were not readily available in hospitals, either,” she explains.

“With acute PTSD and trauma from not only the rape but also the revictimization that followed, I also understood why not one victim had the courage to break the silence of being raped in Japan. I wanted to use my voice on behalf of all victims who were too afraid to speak out.”

Fisher fought in the Japanese courts but her case was dismissed, and the rapist, Bloke Deans, was given an honorable discharge by the U.S. military and permitted to return to the United States,

Fisher refused to give up, and in 2004 a civil court in Japan granted her ¥3 million in compensation. However, it was a victory in name only, and Fisher says that the Japanese officials were unwilling to enforce the ruling, or even to help find Deans. She was left to track him down on her own.

A 10-year battle for justice ensued, culminating in Fisher asking Milwaukee County to enforce the Japanese ruling under “common law comity,” the principle of recognizing the validity of another country’s judicial rulings. In 2013 Fisher settled for token compensation of $1 in exchange for Deans’ acknowledgement of the civil court ruling.

“I sacrificed all the money that would have been awarded to me and over a decade of my life, just so I could make a difference in this world of ours and set a precedent for those who came after me,” she explains.

Fisher authored a book about her journey, “I am Catherine Jane” (Vivid Publishing; a Japanese translation, “Namida no Ato wa Kawaku,” has been published by Kodansha).

Since founding Warriors Japan in 2002, Fisher and her supporters have worked to raise awareness of the issues faced by sexual assault survivors in Japan. Now the organization is hoping to open a rape crisis center and hotline under the name “I Am Jane.”

Fisher explains that the decision to use her name for the new center in Tokyo is based on the fact that people have come to know her story. “For the people in Japan, I am hoping that if victims contact us then they will feel reassured that they will receive the respect they deserve. Also, I would like people to know that sexual assault could happen to anyone. Awareness means education and prevention.”

Fisher is aiming to have the center up and running in January 2017 and is currently working on raising funds and finding and training people to help bring her vision to fruition.

“What we have undertaken is a major project and will take time to set up,” she says. “Meanwhile, the I Am Jane website will have lots of information and we will be producing pamphlets and have a 24-hour hotline service.”

In order to help them understand the need of victims of sexual assault, Fisher and her supporters will also be reaching out to police the and medical facilities in Japan and building up a network. “We plan to use technology and our worldwide database of professionals to get the message across in a way that focuses on solving problems with innovative solutions,” she says.

“Rape can be solved as easily as any other crime. It’s just that the techniques required to solve rape cases are unique and require the kind of law enforcement skills that are, unfortunately, the skills most ignored or devalued in the law-enforcement culture,” Fisher notes.

“Successful rape investigation depends not only on forensics and physical evidence as it does on the ability of the investigator to communicate and partner effectively with the victims. Treating victims of violence with respect, compassion and empathy is of dire importance.”

The I Am Jane Center welcomes inquiries from people of any nationality. Fisher, who is fluent in Japanese, frequently speaks at rallies and symposiums in Japan and is often contacted by Japanese women who are relieved that someone will finally listen to their stories.

Moreover, sexual abuse is not just limited to females, and Fisher says I Am Jane will be advocating for men and boys, too. “We will talk to the Japanese government about making changes in the Japanese laws so that male victims are not ignored.”

I Am Jane is seeking community support.

“Donations are welcome and we ask people and companies willing to save people to pledge donations for research and sponsorship. We also encourage volunteering, but anyone working directly with victims of abuse has to undergo a rigid security check and a training program before being upgraded to a ‘carer’ status,” Fisher explains.

She is looking for additional help with building the organization’s website and from translators willing to volunteer their time to help work with staff and victims.

Fisher likens rape to a “global pandemic” and emphasizes that education is the way forward. “If out of 100 rapes, 97 of the rapists never spend a day in prison and the perpetrators are escaping from justice, it means that the whole world has to change” she says. “I Am Jane believes that the focus needs must be shifted to re-education programs on all levels. We don’t want to just wait for victims to come to us — we to see rape eradicated.”

It was never Fisher’s desire to become a well-known face, but after her own ordeal, she realized she still had the power speak out. “Sometimes there is a voice inside of us that says, ‘If no one else has the courage to do it then we must make the decision to take the stand’, ” she says. Fisher is working to help others suffering from sexual assault and abuse find the courage and opportunity to speak up, too.

I Am Jane website (under construction; assistance with web design welcome): iamjane.org. Contact email for inquiries: warriors.japan@gmail.com. GoFundMe Account for donations: gofundme.com/247jr84.
Do you know about a citizens’ group or of any other helpful resources? Your comments and questions: lifelines@japantimes.co.jp