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About 73 percent of the 82 female prisoners in their 20s and 30s serving sentences in central Japan said they were sexually abused in childhood or adolescence, a survey by the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry showed Sunday.

In the nation’s first survey of female prisoners’ experiences with sexual abuse, 60 of the inmates said they had been sexually abused before turning 18, with 26 of them saying they had been raped or nearly raped.

Of the 26, 12 said they were raped or nearly raped when they were high school students, 11 when they were elementary or junior high school students, and three before entering elementary school.

The survey also found that 16 respondents were sexually abused either by family members or their boyfriends and that 21 had kept the incidents secret, deciding not to report to police or to receive psychological support.

A ministry research team headed by Akio Kitayama, a professor at Nagano College of Nursing, conducted the survey by interviewing female prisoners whose sentences began between February 1998 and October 2000.

The survey shows a higher rate of sexual abuse among female prisoners and indicates that trauma inflicted by such abuse may be causing victims to deviate from social order.

A separate survey on sexual abuse conducted by a private research body in 1998 on 1,300 women nationwide, showed that some 29 percent of respondents had suffered sexual abuse before turning 18.

Kitayama said that victims of sexual abuse whose trauma is left untreated may often have difficulty establishing a trusting relationship with others and end up exhibiting antisocial behavior.

He said a system to teach children ways of protecting themselves and to provide support to victims at an early stage is urgently needed.

He added Japan is 20 years behind the United States in efforts to tackle child sexual abuse.

Based on the survey, the ministry is expected to develop a system for early discovery of sexual abuse and improve its initial response to sexual abuse victims.

According to a separate survey by the ministry, consultations on child sexual abuse held at child-welfare facilities nationwide in fiscal 2000 up to March 31 totaled 697. The actual number of child sexual abuse cases is believed to be higher.

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