By KOSUKE TAUCHI/ Staff Writer
February 3, 2023 at 18:53 JST
A participant of a “Flower Demonstration” holds flowers and a sign in front of the Justice Ministry’s building in Tokyo’s Chiyoda Ward on March 8, 2021, to call for legal revisions to make all forms of non-consensual sex punishable crimes. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
A Justice Ministry draft of legal revisions to improve the way sex crimes are handled from the perspective of victims proposed raising the statute of limitations for rape from 10 years to 15 years and raising the age of consent from 13 to 16.
Despite improvements to a draft drawn up in October by a working group of the ministry’s Legislative Council, detractors said the new basic outline does not go nearly far enough in addressing crimes of a sexual nature.
The ministry aims to submit the proposed bill as outlined in the Feb. 3 draft to the current Diet session in accordance with a recommendation by the council.
Under the current criminal code, perpetrators who resort to “violence” and “intimidation” can be charged with “forced sexual intercourse.”
Perpetrators who render victims “mentally incompetent” or incapable of rejecting a sexual assault due to the ingestion of drugs, alcohol or other intoxicants can be charged with “quasi-forced sexual intercourse.”
The problem is that such crimes can only be established when it is “significantly difficult” for victims to fight back.
The “significantly difficult” standard is not only crushingly vague but often impossible to prove after the fact, which has resulted in many accused perpetrators walking free over the years, triggering howls of protest among members of the public.
In the latest draft, the ministry panel combined the crimes of “forced sexual intercourse” and “quasi-forced sexual intercourse” under eight punishable cases to make the range of what constitutes sexual assault more transparent.
But this is unlikely to appease critics who are calling for far sterner steps.
The eight crime categories include acts of terrorizing, shocking and abusing the victims, or taking advantage of status, such as in an employment or teacher-student relationship.
Perpetrators can also be charged if the victims are incapable of expressing their consent to a sexual act.
The ministry initially used the phrase “will to reject,” which drew fire from victims of sex crimes, as well as their supporters and experts, because it “keeps imposing a duty on victims to reject any sexual advance.”
So the ministry corrected the wording to “absence of consent.”
The ministry passed on making “sexual intercourse without consent” a crime, arguing it can only be established from the viewpoint of “against a victim’s will.”
That, it contended, is a complicated issue that involves “all manner of inner thoughts.”
One improvement over the October draft is to extend the statute of limitations for criminal prosecution for forcible sexual intercourse from 10 years to 15 years.
For an indecent assault, the statute of limitations is to be extended from seven years to 12 years.
If a victim is under the age of 18 when a sex crime is committed, the statute of limitations will be further extended, adding the period until when they reach the age 18. This is intended to give minors time to realize and recognize that were sexually abused.
Under the current criminal code, the age of consent for sexual acts is 13, and all sexual actvity involving children below the age of 13, whether with consent or not, are punishable.
The draft raises the threshold to “children below the age of 16.”
But this interpretation does not apply across the board, the ministry said.
For example, sexual acts involving a pair of 15-year-olds in a romantic relationship will not be regarded as criminal activity.
However, sexual acts involving a child aged between 13 and 15 and another individual who is at least five years older will be subject to punishment, the ministry said.
The draft includes a new charge of “sexual grooming” to punish perpetrators who approach children below the age of 16 while diguising their intention of engaging in lewd and obscene acts.
The draft also makes upskirt filming punishable, along with acts of sexual intercourse in the pursuit of financial profit.
Providing such videos to a third party and distributing them to a wider audience will also be punishable.
Currently, voyeurism is banned and dealt under prefectural government ordinances on nuisance prevention.
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