A recent successful lawsuit by a rape victim in her 40s against her childhood molester in the Hokkaido city of Kushiro has underscored the need for Japan to grant sexual abuse survivors longer statutes of limitations, the woman and her lawyers said Friday.
The Supreme Court on Wednesday upheld a landmark ruling handed down by the Sapporo High Court last year ordering an uncle of the victim to pay her ¥30 million in restitution for sex abuse he inflicted upon her from 1978 to 1983. The abuse started when she was three years old and ended when she was eight.
“After all those years, I finally feel confident about who I am,” the woman said about the Supreme Court decision during a news conference in Tokyo on Friday, asking to remain anonymous to protect her privacy.
“Rape is a crime more horrible than murder, because it kills your soul,” she said.
The ruling was significant in that it declared the Kushiro native eligible for compensation over childhood molestation she suffered more than 20 years ago.
But it is no game changer for many other victims of child sexual abuse, because it doesn’t touch on the Civil Code provision that says people lose their right to file a civil lawsuit 20 years after the abuse took place.
This 20-year statute of limitations has kept victims of child sexual abuse from seeking justice later in life. In many cases, by the time they have discovered the correlation between the abuse and their psychological injuries, or felt ready to confront their childhood tormentors, the 20-year period has run out. A statute of limitations for criminal charge against rape is even shorter, capped at 10 years.
“I think Japan needs drastic legal revisions to follow other developed nations in either extending or delaying the start of the statutes of limitations for child sexual abuse,” said Toko Teramachi, one of the woman’s lawyers.
Many U.S. states have adopted extensions of statutes of limitations for cases involving child sexual abuse, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The Kushiro woman filed a suit against her uncle in April 2011.
According to the Sapporo High Court ruling, she began to suffer post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in 1983 — the last year the molestation took place — and mental depression in 2006.
In April 2013, the Kushiro District Court determined that her 20-year statute of limitations had already expired on the grounds that it dated from 1983, characterizing depression that started in 2006 as part of the PTSD symptoms.
This logic was overturned by the Sapporo High Court in September 2014, which ruled that PTSD and depression should be treated separately, and that her time hadn’t run out yet for damages for the depression.
Although welcoming the ruling, the woman said she can never forgive her uncle.
“To be perfectly honest, I want to kill him, limb by limb, so that he will go though the same pain I did,” she said. “He just can’t get away with it by paying off some money.”