July 13, 2017

Today, I want to talk about the revised sex crime law in Japan that passed the parliament last month and was enforced today.

Revision of Sex Crime Law

The revision of the century-old criminal law imposes tougher prison terms for sex offenders, raising the minimum sentence for rape from three years to five years. the definition of rape has also been broadened to include male victims. Under the revised law, the state can prosecute offenders even if charges are not brought by a victim. The revised law also punishes parents or guardians for sexual abuse of children under the age of 18, even if force or threat is not involved. However, the amended law did not drop a requirement that the perpetrator must have used force or threat for the assault to be established as rape.

Future Considerations

Despite significant progress from the previous sex crime law, there are still challenges going forward. For example, the insertion of foreign objects, such as sex toys or finger, into the female genital does not fall under intercourse, so it cannot be penalized as forcible intercourse. Some have argued that the emotional damage from such assault would not differ from the emotional damage on victim under the current definition of intercourse.

In addition, the newly established law punishing parents or guardians for sexual abuse of children under 18 even without force or threat does not apply to teacher-student, boss-worker, or coach-player relationships. Some argue that this is a narrow interpretation of relationships involving power or authority resulting in sexual abuse.

My Thoughts

Are the voices of the victims truly heard? According to the Justice Ministry, 21.8 percent of the 888 rape cases sent to prosecutors in 2013 were dismissed because of reasons such as charges being dropped. Although the revision to enable prosecution without charges pressed by victims is a major step forward, there are still many silent victims who are unwilling or unable to file complaints. The revised law will be able to make further improvement by clearly defining and broadening the definition of “assault or intimidation,” taking into consideration cases where victims are unable to show resistance due to fear or other reasons.

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