• Jiji, Kyodo

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The number of consultations victims of sexual abuse and violence sought from support centers across Japan rose 15.5% from a year earlier to 23,050 in April-September, the Cabinet Office's gender equality bureau said Friday.

The surge came as more people came to know about the centers, officials of the bureau said, adding that the novel coronavirus crisis also led to the increase.

Some of the victims complained that they were abused by people they met through social media while their schools were closed due to the pandemic.

Gender equality minister Seiko Hashimoto said during a news conference Friday that to help alleviate the physical and mental pain of victims, it was necessary to offer medical and psychological support immediately after they are abused.

"More people need to understand how many women have been victimized in sexual assaults amid the pandemic, and the government has to support them adequately," she said.

During the first half of fiscal 2020, the most consultations were made in August with 4,456, up 895 from the corresponding month last year.

Some of the centers have seen an increase in the number of reports from victims who said they were assaulted by people they met on dating apps and websites, according to a Cabinet Office official.

Support groups and individuals in Japan have raised the alarm that measures to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus may also fuel domestic violence, as victims can be stuck at home with their abuser without the usual avenues of escape.

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