The Cabinet approved a sweeping bill Tuesday that would impose harsher penalties for rape and other sex offenses, including the recognition of male rape victims for the first time.
The measure, if passed by the Diet, will raise the minimum sentence for rape to five years from the current three years, expand the scope of victims, including males, and no longer require a victim to file a complaint in order to prosecute an assailant in a rape or sexual molestation case.
Despite the enduring impact on survivors of sexual assault, the three-year minimum sentence for rape was shorter than the mandatory five-year minimum penalty for robbery under the current criminal code, which was enacted a century ago.
Currently, a victim must first file a complaint to enable criminal prosecution. Removing this precondition is expected to ease the burden on rape survivors, since many are reluctant to go public.
The bill will be submitted during the current Diet session and was compiled after a legal advisory panel to the justice minister issued a report in September calling for changes to the law.
Among other proposed revisions is a clause covering domestic sexual abuse, which punishes parents or guardians who engage in sex with children in their care, even where force or threats are not involved.
The current law requires use of force or threats in establishing rape cases.
The bill also calls for raising the minimum sentence for rape resulting in death or injury to six years imprisonment from five years.
Under current statutes, a person who robs a victim after raping them faces a shorter sentence than if the assailant had committed a single act of robbery.
While the latest move marks a significant step forward for victims, some say tougher penalties alone will not prevent sex crimes and that enhanced correctional programs for offenders will be needed as well.
The government has for years been looking toward strengthening penalties for sex offenses. In October 2014, the then-Justice Minister Midori Matsushima set up an expert panel to review the laws.
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