Photo/Illutration Chieko Aoki, a lawyer, during a news conference on Sept. 1 in Tokyo (Kyota Tanaka)

The Tokyo District Court on Sept. 1 handed down a two-and-a-half-year sentence with four years suspended to a man for groping a woman on a rush-hour JR Saikyo Line train in 2020.

The legal victory brought some closure to Chieko Aoki, 45, who fought hard to see the man go to trial and took a stand on behalf of other women who have endured similar traumatic experiences.

Getting groped on public transportation by men while commuting to school or work is something many Japanese women and girls routinely experience. But it is rare for the victims to publicly accuse the perpetrators and disclose their name and face.

Aoki was different. She is a lawyer involved with supporting victims of crime.

Aoki had originally wanted to research legal systems to find better ways to support victims after she was raped about 15 years ago. But she became a lawyer in 2019 because she thought the profession would keep her closer to victims and their experiences.

The incident occurred in October 2020, when Aoki was on her way to work to help a victim.

She was standing near a train door on the Saikyo Line, one of the major commuter lines that connect Tokyo with its neighboring prefectures--in this case, Saitama.

The train was packed with commuters going home.

Aoki felt multiple people touching her backside and felt a hand reach up her dress.

She fought back but said she was pursued by one of the gropers.

As much as she wanted to tell the man to stop, she froze at the prospect of embarrassment. She could not utter a word as it was unthinkable for her to tell someone that she was being objectified or sexualized.

She said she endured it for more than five minutes.

She thought of the faces of the people who had confessed to her that they had been victims of sex crimes, she said.

When the train arrived at Akabane Station, she summoned up her courage and confronted the man.

“You just groped me, didn’t you?” she said.

She then grabbed a strap of the man’s shoulder bag. The man strongly pulled back at his bag when he was on the platform.

The move sent Aoki falling to the ground, but she did not let go. She was dragged almost all the way to the stairs.

Two bystanders chased the man before a police officer stopped him near a police box in front of the train station.

The incident turned Aoki’s life upside down. She suffered a knee injury, which took three weeks to heal.

The sensation she felt when she was being dragged would sometimes return to haunt her.

She had nightmares and her mental health deteriorated until she felt unstable.

Her relationships with her lover and her friends soured.

And she quit her job lecturing at a preparatory school for bar exams.

Three months after the incident, the man was referred to prosecutors on suspicion of indecent assault resulting in bodily injury.

Investigators from the Metropolitan Police Department and the Tokyo District Public Prosecutors Office repeatedly asked her why she did not run away and why she did not say something sooner.

Aoki understood that to establish an indecent assault case, investigators needed to prove that it was “extremely difficult for her to resist.”

Still, Aoki said she felt like these “why” questions were accusatory and pinned the blame on her.

But she continued to cooperate because a prosecutor told her, “We want to investigate carefully because the case is subject to a lay judge trial.”

Then the prosecutor in charge of her case changed.

A new prosecutor told her the perpetrator would receive a summary indictment for violating the Tokyo ordinance against disturbing the peace and for inflicting injury.

With a summary indictment, the perpetrator would not face a trial and only be sentenced to a fine.

“Is this the judicial system of Japan that draws a conclusion without a full investigation?” she questioned.

She said she felt despair at the news and told the law firm that she worked for that she would quit.

But then the lawyer who headed the firm protested to the prosecutors’ office on behalf of Aoki, and a new prosecutor was assigned to her case.

At the end of 2021, the man was indicted for indecent assault resulting in bodily injury.

During the one year and two months it took to achieve that, she was reminded of the incident many times, she said.

During the lay judge trial, which started in August this year, the man pleaded ignorance.

“I thought it was OK to touch (her) as long as she did not say anything,” he said.

Aoki gave a statement describing her experience as a victim during the trial.

“I was not treated as a human being who has a will,” she said. “I still cannot cast aside the sense of humiliation.”

She recalled her decision to confront the man at the station.

“I am exposed to crime through my work and even I had a lot of reluctance.”

The prosecutor had sought a three-year prison sentence for the 43-year-old company employee.

In its Sept. 1 ruling, the court said the man “committed a despicable crime in a situation where (the woman) could not escape.”

Aoki held a news conference after the ruling where she disclosed her identity, hoping that sharing her story would help bring about societal change, given how difficult it is for groping victims to take a stand and accuse the perpetrators.

She also thanked the people “who chased the man, cared about my mental and physical condition at work and offered me a helping hand.”