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The Diet passed into law Friday a bill to combat domestic violence that will allow courts to impose restraining orders to keep perpetrators away from their victims.

The bill, proposed by a suprapartisan group of lawmakers in the House of Councilors and submitted to the House of Representatives on Monday, cleared the Diet after five days of unusually swift deliberations. The law will be put into force in October.

The legislation comes amid growing public awareness of the problem of domestic violence, which in the past was often not addressed because it was deemed a family affair between husband and wife.

The new law empowers district courts to impose six-month restraining orders and to force perpetrators to vacate their homes for two weeks when there is a risk of serious suffering by their partners.

The Law on Prevention of Spouse Violence and Protection of Victims covers all couples living together, regardless of marital status. It also covers divorced individuals still in danger of violence from their former spouses.

The new law requires state and local authorities to try to prevent violence and protect victims from abusive partners. It urges prefectural governments to encourage women’s centers to provide advice, support, counseling, emergency protection and refuge to victims of domestic violence.

Victims are required to submit a notarized affidavit, or reports compiled by women’s centers or the police, on their injuries in filing complaints with the district court. But in emergencies, the court is allowed to issue an order to violent spouses without a hearing, according to the law.

Failure to comply with an order means a maximum of one year in prison or up to 1 million yen in fines. People making false reports of domestic violence will be fined 100,000 yen. The law also stipulates that local governments offer financial assistance to some 40 institutions nationwide that provide abuse victims with shelter.

The government is expected to mark some 1 billion yen for such measures in fiscal 2002.

The law is expected to be reviewed after three years.

People who have worked on the problem of domestic violence welcome the legislation, but they warn that further efforts are needed to ensure the law serves as powerful tool to stop such violence.

Yukari Hideshima, a Sapporo-based lawyer, told Kyodo News that she hopes the prison term provision will serve as a deterrent.

However, the provision requiring a victim to submit a notarized affidavit or reports compiled by authorities before filing a complaint could actually deter many from taking action, Hideshima said, adding that she prefers a system in place in the U.S. that allows victims to go directly to the court.

Keiko Fukuhara, representative of a Yokohama-based civic group that provides shelter for women subject to violence by their partners, also raised questions about the requirement.

Police in many parts of the country still tend to avoid intervening in “matters between a married couple,” she pointed out. “The question is how far the new legislation will change such attitudes of police.”

A 54-year-old counselor for women in Tokyo, who refused to be named, said she worries the law may be narrowly defining domestic violence merely to physical violence, even though victims are also exposed to psychological and various other attacks.

The law defines domestic violence as assaults by a spouse that could pose danger to the victim’s life or body.

“It does not make sense for the law to target only beating and kicking. Women suffering from domestic violence are almost certainly raped by their spouses, but in reality, a husband will never be punished for raping his wife,” the counselor said.

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