Photo/Illutration Shiori Ito replies to a question from reporters at a press conference in Tokyo's Kasumigaseki after the ruling on Dec. 18. (Kazuhiro Nagashima)

The Tokyo District Court on Dec. 18 ordered a former TV reporter to pay 3.3 million yen ($30,100) in compensation to a freelance journalist who accused him of raping her in a ruling on a case that has come to symbolize a deep-seated social problem.

The court ruled in favor of Shiori Ito, who claimed that Noriyuki Yamaguchi, 53, a former reporter at Tokyo Broadcasting System Television Inc. (TBS), had sex with her while she was unconscious at a hotel after drinking together, rejecting Yamaguchi’s claim that sex between the two was consensual.

Yamaguchi was charged with quasi rape (now quasi-forced sexual intercourse), but prosecutors decided not to indict him on grounds there was insufficient evidence.

In criminal cases, prosecutors are required to make an airtight case against the defendant to prove his or her guilt. In civil cases, in contrast, court decisions are based on which side has made a more convincing argument.

The district court dismissed Yamaguchi’s claim of consensual sex, citing “irrational inconsistencies concerning important parts” and “multiple points that don’t agree with the objective circumstances.”

Yamaguchi has announced his intention to appeal the ruling. In a news conference after the ruling, he made some remarks that reflect serious social problems.

In maintaining his innocence, Yamaguchi quoted a woman whom he claimed to have interviewed as saying, “A real victim (of a sexual crime) would not laugh in a news conference.”

This is tantamount to saying that victims of sex crimes should live a life of quiet suffering.

This kind of distorted idea and perceptions about sex crimes have made life even more difficult for victims who are struggling to overcome the profound trauma they are suffering.

Many victims who have summoned the courage to come forward and accuse their offenders have suffered additional pain and anguish as they are criticized for being partly to blame. In addition to the agonizing experience itself, victims of sexual harassment or assault also have to deal with other pain if they try to break their silence.

Movements to change this vicious situation and reduce sex crimes have emerged in various parts of the world, with the most high-profile one being the “#MeToo” movement.

In Japan, a series of rulings that acquitted defendants in sex crime cases has provoked a public outcry, triggering a wave of protests against the criminal law called “Flower Demonstrations,” which have been spreading across the nation. Protestors have voiced their support for victims who have gone public with their stories and accused their assailants.

There is little doubt that Ito’s decision to take legal action against Yamaguchi while making public appearances without concealing her identity has encouraged many other victims to take similar actions.

As a result, Ito has become a target of extremely persistent and virulent verbal attacks, mainly on the internet. Critics who are sympathetic toward Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration have come to support Yamaguchi, who has written a book on Abe.

In a right-leaning magazine, an article that demeans and defames Ito has been published.

The court ruling said that Ito acted in the public interest, saying she has revealed her experience in the belief that doing so would help “improve the legal and social situations surrounding victims of sexual crimes.”

The court rejected Yamaguchi’s argument that her actions have damaged his reputation.

Japanese society has been taking an increasingly tougher stance toward sex crimes despite some backlash.

The revision to the criminal law to strengthen penalties against sex crimes was enacted in 2017 and debate is raging further on changes in that direction.

Systems to provide counseling and support to victims have also been enhanced.

It is a vital challenge for Japanese society to promote this trend and protect the dignity of victims.

--The Asahi Shimbun, Dec. 20