National / Social Issues

Students take stand against rising number of sexual violence cases at Japan's universities

Kyodo

With a rising number of sexual violence cases on and off campus in recent times, some university students have begun signature-collection campaigns to petition their schools to deliver safer learning environments.

However, the response from universities has mostly subdued — even amid reports of sexual harassment targeted at job seekers and assaults during club events and parties.

Experts have pointed to the need for young men to understand what “sexual consent” is, so that instances of assaults can be reduced. They have urged universities to play an active role in educating students.

Although a number of students attending Keio University have been arrested in recent years for crimes that are sexual in nature, the prestigious university’s only response has been the release last November of a statement calling the arrests “very regrettable.” No concrete solutions aimed at preventing further assaults have been put forward.

Koyo Tani, 22, a fourth-year student at the university, started a petition drive in May with the aim of persuading the institution to provide preventative education for students as well as other countermeasures. With the support of members of the school faculty, the effort garnered about 900 signatures.

In June, student volunteers organized a symposium to address sex crimes on campus, inviting a lawyer and activists as speakers. Following the move, the university announced that countermeasures were “currently being taken under consideration.”

“Compared to the warnings about excessive drinking, the university has not taken the initiative in highlighting sexual violence,” Tani said.

Yumemi Morikawa, 21, another fourth-year student at Keio, agreed that more can be done. “There needs to be a place where students who have been victims (of sexual violence) on or off campus can feel safe talking to someone,” she said.

At Soka University, the student club BeLive Soka has been working to prevent sexual violence on campus since 2017. In January, the group called on the university to hold workshops to educate students about sexual consent, submitting a petition with more than 2,000 signatures to the president.

As a result, the workshops held at some faculties taught students that sexual behavior or actions without the consent of the other party is considered violence.

Through debates and role-playing, participants deepened their understanding of topics such as “what would make you uncomfortable if done to you?”

A section on sexual consent was also included in a university handbook distributed to all freshmen.

“We want as many people as possible to understand the importance of sexual consent,” said 20-year-old Anzu Ichikawa, a third-year student at the university.

In June, another symposium was organized at Sophia University by student groups from seven schools, including Keio and Soka, where the students exchanged opinions and ideas.

“Chabudai Gaeshi Jyoshi Action” (Action by ladies who flip tables), a Tokyo-based grassroots feminist organization established in 2015, raises awareness about the importance of building relationships on mutual respect and the significance of sexual consent.

The group’s name references the phrase “chabudai gaeshi,” or flipping a table, which for many Japanese has the connotation of an angry father turning over a traditional low table in a rage. For the group, the name represents the flipping of oppressive societal structures and norms, they say.

According to co-founder Sachiko Osawa, 28, education on sexual consent became common at many universities in the United States after the scale of the problem of sexual violence became more widely understood around 2011.

“In Japan as well, students have used their voice and initiatives to create safer campuses are spreading,” said Osawa. “For students, a safe environment is a legitimate right. I want to see many people get involved.”