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Saying ‘Me Too’ In Japan A Big Risk For Women

TOKYO: Japanese women who say “Me too” do so at their own risk.

Online comments accused Rika Shiiki of lying and being a publicity hound when she tweeted that she lost business contracts after refusing to have sex with clients. Some said that by agreeing to dine with a man, she led him on.

“The comments I received were disproportionately negative,” the 20-year-old university student and entrepreneur told a TV talk show in December.

“We need to create a society where we can speak up. Otherwise, sexual harassment and other misconduct will persist forever.”

The #MeToo movement has not caught on in Japan, where speaking out often draws criticism, even from other women.

In a patriarchal society where women have long taken the blame, many victims try to forget attacks and harassment instead of seeking support and justice, said Mari Miura, a political science professor at Sophia University in Tokyo.

“Japan lacks such a sisterhood,” she said. “It’s an exhausting and intimidating process … it’s quite natural that victims feel reluctant to speak up.”

One woman, journalist Shiori Ito, went public last year. She held a news conference after prosecutors decided not to press charges against a prominent TV newsman whom she had accused of raping her after he invited her to discuss job opportunities over dinner in 2015.

Many online comments criticised Ito for speaking out, looking too seductive and ruining the life of a prominent figure. Some women called her an embarrassment.

The October release of Ito’s book Blackbox, detailing her ordeal, came as the #MeToo phenomenon was making headlines in the United States. It prompted some discussion in Japan, but only a handful of other women came forward.

“Many people think Shiori’s problem has nothing to do with them … and that’s why #MeToo isn’t growing in Japan,” said lawyer Yukiko Tsunoda, an expert on sex crimes.

In Japan, sexually assaulted women are traditionally called “the flawed”, she added.

Nearly three quarters of rape victims said they had never told anyone and just over 4% had gone to police, according to a 2015 government survey.

The study found that one in 15 Japanese women had been raped or forced to have sex.

Victims often shy away from going to court out of fear, privacy concerns or the risk of losing their jobs, Tsunoda said.

Justice Ministry statistics show that only one-third of rape cases go to court and punishment is not severe. Of the 1,678 people tried for sexual assault in 2017, only 285 or 17% were sentenced to prison for three years or longer.

Popular writer Haruka Ito, who goes by the pen name Ha-Chu, was criticised after revealing in Decem­ber that she had faced sexual and other harassment by a senior male employee when working at Dentsu, Japan’s largest advertising agency.

Ha-Chu said she initially tried to endure and forget the ordeal, fearing that exposing it would hurt her image and cause problems for her former colleagues. But after news of Ito’s case and the #MeToo movement, she decided to speak out.

Conformist pressure in Japan discourages women from speaking out or saying “no” to many things, including unwanted sex, said Saori Ikeuchi, a gender diversity activist.

That mindset has silenced virtually all of Japan’s so-called “comfort women”, who were sexually abused as prostitutes for the wartime military, while Japan has shown little sympathy to victims from Korea and elsewhere, she said.

Mika Kobayashi, a rape victim, runs a self-help group that has exchanged thousands of #MeToo experiences, but only anonymously among themselves.

Her focus is on providing support and understanding for victims.

“I used to think of myself as someone hiding a big secret, a sex assault victim and unclean,” she said.

“I’m so grateful I could connect with fellow victims. They gave me strength.” — AP

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