The Justice Ministry’s Legislative Council on Monday approved a list of recommendations designed to bolster sex crime laws, a major step forward in toughening punishments for offenders.
The recommendation urges raising the minimum sentence for rape offenders to five years from the current three. Such a move would put the penalty on par with punishments for crimes such as murder, arson and robbery.
The nation’s archaic sex offense statutes, enacted in the Meiji Era, have drawn criticism for allowing stricter punishment for robbery than for rape.
The panel is also recommending the removal of a clause preventing prosecutors from filing rape charges without receiving criminal complaints from victims — a move aimed at alleviating the burden faced by rape victims forced to lodge their complaints themselves.
Human rights groups, including United Nations human rights panels, have blasted Japan for being one of the few developed countries where sex crime victims must initiate legal action themselves.
In Monday’s panel session, the council said the law must be considerate of the privacy and feelings of rape victims.
The council also recommended that the penalty for rape and molestation resulting in injury or death be raised to at least six years in prison from the current minimum of five years.
It urged revision of a clause that, in principle, limits rapists to men and rape victims to women.
The panel agreed the change is needed in today’s increasingly diversified society, because the revision may be applied to sexual assaults against LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual transgender) people.
The panel also said that acts such as forcible anal and oral sex should be added to the definition of rape, as opposed to current law, which says rape applies only to vaginal intercourse.
A new clause on rape and molestation committed by guardians of children under the age of 18, including parents, could also be included, so they can be charged with sex crimes rather than violations of the Child Welfare Law, which carries a lighter punishment.
Under the recommendations, guardians will also be charged even without violence or threat, which is currently a prerequisite for charging them with indecent assault or rape.
The panel agreed that the inclusion of the clause could have “great significance” because, despite the gravity of this crime, such offenders have not been justly punished.
Revisions to the laws are part of an attempt to curb recidivist sex offenders in a country where 51.6 percent of the 919 people arrested in 2014 in connection with alleged rapes were repeat offenders, according to National Police Agency statistics.
The move to revise the sex crime laws was a pet project of former Justice Minister Midori Matsushima, who resigned her post in October 2014.
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