Photo/IllutrationMore than 400 demonstrators near Tokyo Station on April 11 protest recent district court rulings that found sex offenders not guilty. (Takuya Isayama)

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

Hundreds of people in Tokyo protested recent court rulings in which the judges recognized that rapes had occurred but allowed the perpetrators to walk because the victims could have offered more resistance.

At a rally called “Standing demonstration protesting sexual violence and sexual violence court rulings” near Tokyo Station on April 11, the demonstrators expressed disgust with the rulings and held signs that read “#MeToo,” “Yes Means Yes!” and “Give judges an education on human rights and sex!”

“I am confounded and terrified by the not-guilty rulings,” said Minori Kitahara, a writer and activist. “I am afraid that victims of sexual abuse will not be able to raise their voices after such verdicts were given.”

The rulings in March by the Nagoya District Court’s Okazaki branch and the Fukuoka District Court’s Kurume branch both found the suspects not guilty of “quasi-forcible sexual intercourse.”

Under Japanese Criminal Law, sexual offenders cannot be punished only for committing non-consensual sex.

To win convictions on charges of forced sexual intercourse, prosecutors must prove that the attackers’ excessive violence or intimidation made it “extremely difficult” for the victims to put up resistance.

In cases in which assailants rape victims who are unable to resist for reasons that include unconsciousness from drug or alcohol consumption, prosecutors apply charges of quasi-forced sexual intercourse.

To win guilty verdicts on this charge, prosecutors must show that the victims had an “incapacitation to resist.”

In the case before the Nagoya District Court’s Okazaki branch, prosecutors argued that a daughter was incapable of resisting her father’s rapes because of his long history of violence and sexual abuse.

He was charged with quasi-forced sexual intercourse in relation to two attacks against his then 19-year-old daughter in Aichi Prefecture in 2017.

The court acknowledged that the daughter “did not consent” to sex with her father and that she had been sexually abused since she was a junior high school student.

The court also said the father used violence against the daughter shortly before he raped her.

But after describing the accused’s acts of sexual abuse as “utterly unacceptable,” the court found him not guilty, saying the daughter “was not in a state in which resisting her father was extremely difficult.”

The ruling added that the father-daughter relationship was not characterized as a strongly subservient one that forced her to blindly accept his authority.

The ruling sparked outrage from the public and many legal experts.

Hisashi Sonoda, a professor of criminal law at Konan University’s Law School in Kobe, called the court decision “unreasonable.”

“The court acknowledged the father’s sexual abuse of the woman, but it found him not guilty because it did not recognize that he controlled every aspect of her personality,” said Sonoda, who is also a lawyer.

He also said the ruling is questionable in light of precedents that recognized the inability to resist from a psychological viewpoint.

During the trial, prosecutors submitted as evidence a written opinion of a psychiatrist who examined the daughter and concluded that her psychological condition put her in a state in which she could not resist his sexual assaults.

Akira Kitani, a lawyer who had long served as a criminal court judge, also criticized the district court’s ruling.

“The verdict is far from compelling,” he said. “The human rights of the accused should be respected, and the ruling will not be able to gain the public’s understanding.”

Prosecutors have appealed the court’s decision.

The ruling was especially tough for victims of sexual abuse.

Jun Yamamoto, who leads the Spring organization of sexual abuse survivors, said the verdict showed the judge’s utter lack of understanding about the mental condition of those who are abused.

Yamamoto had been sexually abused by her biological father for seven years since she was 13.

“The court did not comprehend the impact on a victim who has been treated as a sex object by the very person who raises her,” she said. “Many people do not become aware that they are indeed victims of sexual abuse and instead try to adjust themselves to the circumstances.”

Yamamoto said the court’s ruling also denied the victim’s efforts to raise her voice after breaking free from being a prisoner of abuse.

Courts generally do not recognize the crime of quasi-forced sexual intercourse unless the accused is shown to have purposely taken advantage of the victim’s loss of consciousness or inability to resist. This is based on principles of the Criminal Law in which an unintentional act cannot be punishable.

The “intention” to rape was at the center of dispute in a trial held at the Fukuoka District Court’s Kurume branch in Fukuoka Prefecture.

The court acknowledged that the suspect raped an unconscious woman who had consumed a large amount of alcohol.

But he was found not guilty on March 12 because the court recognized circumstances that could have misled him into believing that the woman had given her consent. The ruling said that although she was too drunk to resist him, she was able to utter words and gave no clear rejection of his actions at the time.

The ruling was appealed.