Rapes are on the increase, a government panel said Tuesday, proposing that prison terms for the crime be lengthened.

The Penal Code currently sets a minimum two-year prison term for rape. The panel under the Cabinet Office’s Council for Gender Equality is seeking a minimum of three years.

The number of rapes handled by police increased from 1,483 in 1996 to 2,472 in 2003, according to the National Police Agency.

At present, convicted rapists sentenced to less than three years account for roughly 40 percent of such offenders.

The advisory panel, designed to study measures to deal with violence toward women, will present a report to the Council for Gender Equality around April.

Hiroko Shimano, head of the panel and a professor at Tsukuba International University, called rape a prime example of an act that “tramples on women’s human rights.”

The panel also proposed mapping out new legislation that would mandate harsher punishment for people who surreptitiously film or photograph women and distribute the images via the Internet or other means.

Such behavior is currently punished as trespassing under the Penal Code or by local ordinances against public nuisances.

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