Since she went public in late May with a rape accusation against a high-profile TV reporter, Shiori has been exposed to a storm of hurtful and derisive comments by anonymous internet users.
“A prostitute,” “A publicity stunt,” “A honey trap,” were some of the phrases hurled at the 28-year-old freelance journalist publicly and privately via social media and direct emails.
She was so overwhelmed by the deluge of messages from strangers that she asked a friend to sift through them for a while, she said.
The media frenzy against Shiori illustrates how survivors of rape or people who claim to be victims of sexual assault struggle in being treated with respect.
Shiori, who has withheld her last name in line with her family’s wishes, announced at a news conference in Tokyo on May 29 that she has filed an appeal with the Committee for Public Inquest of Prosecution over a decision by prosecutors not to indict Noriyuki Yamaguchi, the former Washington bureau chief for Tokyo Broadcasting System, whom she accuses of raping her.
Her disclosure shocked many because it’s extremely rare in Japan for people who come forward with rape allegations to disclose their identity publicly and face cameras. It also made waves because the accused is a well-known journalist who has close ties with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and has authored two books on the inner workings of the Abe administration.
Shiori said she went public because she wanted to shed light on the powerlessness sex crime victims feel due to insensitive treatment by police, hospitals and society at large.
“Sex crime victims have been hidden from society and regarded as something filthy, even though they have done nothing wrong,” she told The Japan Times in a recent interview. “Their voices were never heard. Disclosing my identity was hard mentally, but I wanted to show that a victim has nothing to be ashamed of — that each of us is a human being with a face.”
According to Shiori, she met the then-TBS journalist at a restaurant in Tokyo on April 3, 2015, to discuss a job opportunity at the network’s Washington bureau. She claims she was raped by him at a hotel after losing consciousness at a second location, a sushi restaurant.
After the incident, Shiori rushed to a gynecologist who didn’t even bother to ask what happened. The doctor just dispensed a morning-after pill and told her to take it outside, Shiori said. In efforts to report the incident to police, she was shuffled around to different officers at two police stations and asked to repeat the same story, she recalled.
Shiori also claims that a police officer told her that the police had planned to arrest Yamaguchi at Narita airport in June 2015 but canceled the arrest at the last minute under orders from “the top part of police” department.
Investigators sent the case on Yamaguchi to prosecutors with charges of incapacitated rape in August that year, but prosecutors dropped the charges in July 2016 citing insufficient evidence, according to Shiori.
Shiori’s account could not be independently verified by The Japan Times and the facts on the case remain elusive.
The news first surfaced in mid-May when the Shukan Shincho weekly started running articles about Shiori. But the timing of the publication of the articles coincided with a range of other scandals that emerged around the same time that were damaging to the Abe administration, which led some internet users to suggest that she may have been a “honey trap,” a ploy hired by someone else to frame a man close to power.
Shiori’s case, meanwhile, even made waves in the Diet.
During a June 2 Lower House session, Yosei Ide of the Democratic Party asked National Public Security Commission Chairman Jun Matsumoto about the possibility that police investigations of the case could have been inappropriate. Ide cited Shincho articles that quoted the then-head of the detective department of the Metropolitan Police Department as saying he decided not to execute an arrest warrant for Yamaguchi.
“Former police officials have questioned the fact that a senior member of the MPD overruled the police station in charge of the investigation and decided” not to make an arrest, Ide said, urging the chairman to review the investigation.
Matsumoto answered that it’s “normal” for prefectural police departments to give instructions to local police officers and that the case was handled properly.
Contacted by The Japan Times, Yamaguchi declined to confirm whether or not he had sex with Shiori, saying he is refraining from commenting on specifics of the case to focus on the proceedings by the inquest committee.
“All I can say at this point is that I have done nothing that constitutes a violation of law,” he said in an email.
Yamaguchi, however, blasted the way the case has been covered in the media.
“I think it’s too extreme to treat the arguments of a woman who holds a news conference and claims to have been ‘victimized by a sex crime’ as entirely true and treat the claims of a man who has been labeled as a suspect as entirely false. … I am startled by the stance of the Japanese media and comments of opposition lawmakers to brand me, who remains silent, as a criminal,” he said.
Following Shiori’s news conference, some internet users commented on her appearance — a few top buttons of her black shirt were left undone. Others divulged her last name despite her request to keep it private. She says she was forced to shut down her Instagram account, where she had only posted work-related photos, after people tracked down her followers, found private pictures of Shiori on the followers’ Twitter accounts and circulated them publicly.
“I learned the horrors of the internet,” she said, noting that she was appalled by the thought of random acts by strangers hurting not only her but her family and friends. “A forum was created online for people I’d never met to talk about me. Details of my personal information were all exposed.”
Still, Shiori, who said she plans to file a civil damages suit against Yamaguchi later this summer, is undeterred.
“We have to break this taboo,” she said. “We have to be able to talk about it. … This could happen to your daughter, your wife, your girlfriend, your son, everyone — your boyfriend, maybe to you. I just want people to think about it for themselves.”
Note: Since the publishing of this story, Shiori Ito has released her full name.