The government plans to get the Penal Code amended to impose heavier penalties for rape. The planned legislation will also drop a provision that the crime of rape is indictable only upon a complaint filed by a victim. The move is reasonable in view of the crime's heinous nature and the psychological burden that the provision places on the victim, which in the worst case could result in no criminal action taken against the suspect.
The planned amendment, to be submitted to the Diet this year, will be based on a set of recommendations compiled in September by the Legislative Council, an advisory body for the justice minister. In 2004, the Penal Code was revised to raise the minimum prison term for rape to three years, up from two years. The Legislative Council called for raising the minimum term to five years, with the upper limit kept at 20 years. If the revision is enacted, it will be almost certain that a person convicted of rape will be placed behind bars instead of being given a suspended sentence — since the Penal Code says in principle that a court can suspend a prison sentence if the crime merits a term of up to three years.
The planned change reflects the public's harsher attitude against rape, which causes victims not only physical but heavy psychological damage. Court rulings on rape crimes handed down in lay judge trials have been heavier than under the old professional judge system.