Photo/Illutration A Flower Demonstration against sexual violence is held near Kokura Station in Kita-Kyushu on Dec. 11. (Mayuri Ito)

The Tokyo High Court on Dec. 21 handed a seven-year prison term to a father who raped his biological daughter from the age of 12, overturning a lower court ruling that viewed her testimony as untrustworthy.

It acknowledged that the girl's testimony was “substantially specific and realistic in a way that only a person who was victimized can give.”

The Shizuoka District Court acquitted the defendant of the rape charges in March 2019, concluding the girl’s testimony was unreliable. The father was indicted on charges of raping his daughter in 2017.

The main point of contention during hearings at both the lower and high courts was whether the girl spoke truthfully when she stated she had been sexually assaulted by her father for more than a year.

The district court ruled that the girl must have made a false complaint on grounds it was “unnatural and unreasonable” that nobody else in her seven-member family noticed what was going on despite the cramped living conditions in the home.

But the Tokyo High Court decided the lower court failed to fully consider the man’s efforts to cover his tracks and the girl’s isolation in the family.

“The district court’s recognition was irrational as its assessment of the evidence was mistaken,” the high court said.

It went on to say that details the victim gave of the way her father sexually penetrated her and other acts was highly credible even though she has a mild intellectual disability.

The high court also took issue with the way judges at the district court questioned the girl in court, labeling it “inappropriate” as they “repeated questions that were difficult to understand.”

In contrast, what she said during taped interviews by prosecutors after the case came to light was “more credible than her court testimony,” the court added.

Prosecutors “conducted the interviews in an impartial way to allow her to describe (what happened to her) in her own words while ruling out facilitating questions,” it said.

The initial district ruling was among a string of “not-guilty” court verdicts in sexual assault cases across the nation that sparked Flower Demonstration, a series of nationwide rallies aimed at highlighting the issue and eradicating sex crimes.

Kazuko Hirakawa, a representative of the Sexual Assault Relief Center Tokyo, a nonprofit organization that provides consultations to victims of sexual assault, hailed the high court decision as “relief and encouragement” to those who have faced such an ordeal.

The NPO’s report showed that parents and other relatives accounted for about one-fourth of the perpetrators in cases brought to the organization by individuals aged 19 and younger in fiscal 2018.

Of those cases, half of the assailants were the fathers.

But it is not easy for victims to come forward and spill unsavory family secrets, according to Hirakawa.

“There are many victims who do not want to file a criminal complaint against their fathers because they are financially dependent on them for school tuition and other things,” she said.

Hirakawa called for judicial authorities to deepen their understanding of what victims endure following such traumatic experiences.

“In some cases, victims of sexual violence cannot convincingly portray what happened during the attack as they fall into a state where they temporarily lose their memory,” she said. “Judicial authorities should pay close attention to what victims are saying while keeping that point in mind.”