WOMEN

Why a Japanese Journalist Went Public with Her Rape Allegation

“No matter what those around you might say, yours is the one truth, and you should believe it.”

11/01/2017 16:35 EDT

Editor’s note: Due to Japanese journalism ethics and because this is a translation from HuffPost Japan, we have removed the alleged perpetrator’s real name, as the charges were dropped by the prosecutor’s office. He will be referred to throughout the post as ‘Mike.’

Five months ago, at a Tokyo press conference, Japanese journalist Shiori Ito alleged that she was raped by Mike, the former Washington bureau chief for Tokyo Broadcasting System (TBS), the night she met up with him to discuss a job opportunity over dinner and drinks.

TBS is one of the major TV networks in Japan, and Mike was often invited as a commentator on popular news programs. He is also known for having strong ties to Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and has published books on Abe’s Cabinet.

Although Mike was charged with raping an incapacitated individual, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office dropped the charges in July 2016, due to a lack of evidence. The Tokyo Sixth Committee for the Public Inquest of Prosecution announced a decision “equivalent to non-prosecution,” meaning that, despite reviewing the materials of the investigation, there was no reason to overturn the non-indictment.

“No criminal act was judged to have been committed, and this case has come to a complete end,” Mike stated. “A portion of the media coverage inflicted grievous damage on my good name, and I am considering legal remedies.”

On September 28th, Ito filed a lawsuit in the Tokyo District Court, seeking 10 million Japanese yen (about $88,000) in damages from Mike.

Ito just released a 265-page nonfiction book titled Black Box (Bungei-Shunju) to discuss her experience. According to her book, investigators obtained an arrest warrant for Mike, yet they didn’t arrest him. In addition to this, she relays that there was actual evidence of the rape (despite the prosecutor’s claim of lack of evidence), such as a security camera at the hotel, the testimony of the taxi driver, and DNA obtained from Ito’s bras.

The book also details Japanese society’s general reactions to sexual assault, and the typical icy treatment of sexual assault victims. Ito examines how other countries, such as Sweden, are treating sex crime victims as well.

Though women around the world who have been sexually assaulted or harassed are now raising their voices on social media using the hashtag #MeToo, it is tremendously rare in Japan for a victim to openly talk about such an experience.

“It’s the victim’s fault,” “The victim would be happier if she stayed quiet”— these are persistent prejudices in Japan around sexual violence.

Ito put everything at stake to speak in front of cameras. She received hate mail and death threats after reporting her experience. She was even called a liar and accused of trying to create a publicity stunt.

Ito authorized HuffPost Japan to publish her full name, a rare thing to do for sexual assault victims in Japan.

“I am not some unnamed, victim,” she said. “I am a human being named Shiori Ito. I want to use my voice to display the reality of sexual violence and provide an opportunity for Japanese society as a whole to think about this issue.”

HuffPost Japan interviewed Ito about her experience and her new book.

Kaori Sasagawa

HuffPost Japan: What made you decide to publish this book?

Shiori Ito: Despite talking to various people in the media immediately after the incident, it was difficult to get them to take my story seriously, partly because the prosecutor decided to drop the case [due to insufficient evidence].

A journalist who I very much admire and consider one of my mentors, told me, “In the end, you have to tell the story yourself. There’s nothing for you to do but write a book.” At the time, I didn’t think I would write in the near future.

In June 2017, following my press conference, an amendment to a criminal law was passed with the aim of creating stricter sanctions for sexual crimes. The former law was written 110 years ago. The new law raised the minimum jail term for rape from three years to five years and expanded the scope of victims to include males. I felt that the passing of this amendment would be meaningless without corresponding reforms to the system for criminal investigation and hospital admittance.  

My editor, who advised me to write a book, said, “Your press conference cracked the door open. People are ready to listen to your story.” That was why I decided to write the book.

What was the intention behind choosing the title Black Box?

During the investigation, the prosecution and the police repeatedly said, “Because the [sex act] was carried out in a closed room, only the two people involved can know the truth,” and described the case as a “black box.” This is why sex crimes tend not to be very visible, and why the victims’ accounts are seldom believed.

Even when the decision that was “equivalent to non-prosecution” came out, I had no idea what the decision was based on.

How do you shed light on the various black boxes that exist throughout Japan? I wanted to open these boxes, which are always said by those on the outside to be unknowable, and start a conversation and a process of thinking about them.

Kaori Sasagawa

In Japan, there is a tendency to “not make a fuss until [a sex crime] is forgotten.” Do you think it is important for society to continue the conversation?

In Japan, it feels as though talking about sexual violence is taboo. I wanted to at least alter this perception. If we can’t talk about this matter, we will never able to change it.

In your book, you write, “I am not a faceless and nameless victim. Matsuri Takahashi, the Dentsu employee who was driven to “karoshi” (death from overwork), was able to change society, thanks to the publication of her real name.”

During the police investigation, I felt the pressure to conform to the stereotypical “victim.” [People in Japan] think that if you don’t cry, nobody will feel your pain, and if you don’t get angry, nobody will understand. This was what the investigator told me. It seems there is a perception that if you’re the victim of a sex crime and if you stay strong, if you can’t fit into this “victim” stereotype, people are suspicious. I wanted to escape and eliminate the stereotype of what a “victim” should look and behave like as much as possible by making my true self and name public.

When I held the press conference at a judicial press club in Tokyo in  2017 regarding my case, I was criticized for wearing an outfit that showed my clavicle. “If only you had cried and worn a white shirt buttoned to the neck, everyone would have believed you,” these people said.

I found this view to be extremely disturbing. I thought, “Do you mean you won’t even listen to my story if I don’t dress a certain way and look like a stereotypical victim?”

Do you think that Japanese society is hesitant to discuss sex crimes and pretends such serious crimes never happen?

In recent years, family members of the victims of various types of incidents ― not just sex crimes ― have had the chance to sit for interviews. These interviews are the first opportunity for the public to see the victim’s family. They see that the victim has a name and a face and as you see their proof of life from photographs, this tells a story and talks to you. It conveys that the victim is not just some “pitiable person,” but someone with a whole life.

“Unnamed victim” doesn’t get that across. I had no need at all for concealment. I was afraid but had no hesitation toward making my name and face public. But at the press conference, partly to respect the wishes of my family, I left out my last name and went by just my first name, Shiori. Having always gone by Shiori when I was studying in New York, this felt natural.

How did your friends and family react to the press conference?

My friends said I did well, but these opinions always came with the caveat of saying, “But there are a lot of other views.” These expressions made it clear to me that there were negative reactions.

It must have been difficult for your family as well.

I think my family members...were extremely conflicted. I wrote about this in my book, but I haven’t been able to talk about it with my sister yet. She is very important to me, and I have asked a friend to support her. My sister’s generation, the younger generation, are more in touch with the internet and the online media, so I think she was the most exposed to the negative press and comments.

What my family was most concerned about was my future, and their own. But I couldn’t understand why we had to be the ones to worry about our futures.

Why do I tell my story? I do it for myself, for my family, and for my friends. From the very beginning, I felt that because this is something that can happen to anyone at any time, it is vital that we talk about it as a society as quickly as possible and make a change.

Kaori Sasagawa

What doubts did your experience raise for you regarding Japanese criminal procedures?

From the outset, the police said, “These sexual offenses are common. We can’t take the case [because of the difficulty of prosecution].” When I first heard this, I thought, “What?” I kept asking the person in charge of my case, “Why? Why?” and all he would say was, “Because that’s what the prosecutor told me. I’m torn about what to do.”

The thing about Japan’s judicial system is that it has an extremely high conviction rate. If the people in the field think a certain type of case can’t be prosecuted, or won’t lead to an indictment, they stop taking those kinds of cases. Of course, the job of an investigative agency is to catch criminals, but their fundamental job is to investigate. From the beginning, I felt that my case reflected broader problems in the judicial system.

When I was talking with the investigators, there were times when I felt they were mistaken. Maybe because of an overzealous need to determine whether the victim was lying, they kept asking to hear the same story again and again.

Of course, they have to investigate from the perspective of both sides, but to decide the victim is lying, they should first have to find some proof or evidence of the lie. It was painful to tell the same story from the beginning over and over again.

In the book, based on reporting by Shukan Shincho, you state that “the execution of the arrest warrant was abruptly stopped based on the decision of the Chief Detective of the Metropolitan Police Department.”

There were some peculiar circumstances, and I don’t know why the investigation was stopped. While writing this book, I attempted to interview [the Chief Detective] many times, but so far, I have been unable to do so.

Because I don’t know why the arrest didn’t occur, it makes me want to ask, “Was the decision an arbitrary one?” If, in fact, there are cases that would serve as precedents, I will not stop asking questions until I am told what those cases are.

Some journalists are trying to question the police, but I feel they are not giving decent responses. I hope that those who have the opportunity to do so keep asking these questions, and I myself will continue to look into the issue. I am still waiting for an answer.

In sex crimes, a common “excuse” used by perpetrators is, “I thought the sex was consensual.” Often, these are self-serving claims made by the perpetrators in cases in which there was no clear “yes” indicating consent.

If it’s not “yes,” it’s not yes. It’s not, “The absence of ‘no’ means ‘yes.’” There’s a phrase in Japanese that goes: ”’I don’t want to, I don’t want to,’ is within the realm of like.” Whose perspective is that sentence being told from? It’s shocking.

Even the recent amendment has not relaxed the requirement for “criminal coerced sex” to include “assault or intimidation.” But it is really difficult to prove the extent to which a victim was assaulted or intimidated.

Even if you sense that a person desires sex, you can’t be sure. I believe such misunderstandings wouldn’t happen if you were thinking about the other person in the right way. It may seem like a very difficult problem, but in reality it’s simple. Isn’t is possible that just caring about whether a person actually doesn’t want sex, and if they are OK, could prevent sex crimes?

There are still people in Japan thinking that activities such as “drinking with just one other person,” “getting in a car with just one other person,” or “wearing revealing clothing” are construed as consent. I was dumbfounded to learn that so many people viewed even those acts to be enough to invite a crime.

In a 2015 survey conducted by the Cabinet Office, 6.5 percent of women answered that they had been forced to have sex with a person of the opposite sex, and close to 75 percent of those women claimed to have known the person who assaulted them. In your case, Mike was also someone you knew.

I think it’s important for people to realize how common this is.

No matter how close you are with someone, no matter how much you trust them, it can still happen. If a violent act takes place, we should listen to the victim with respect and not blame them.

Kaori Sasagawa

I don’t think your case is unusual. Even when I ask my female friends, they tell me stories of how a boss invited them to go drinking, or how they received private messages on LINE [a commonly used social media/chatting platform in Japan]. Do we also need to change the work culture of Japanese companies?

Although there is social pressure for employees to participate in after-work meals, I also wonder how much risk you should be forced to accept in order to participate in those meals. This work culture also needs to change.

It must have taken exceptional courage for you to come forward using your real name given the current state of Japanese society. What do you think of that decision in hindsight?

I have no regrets. But I do miss being able to do the things I used to do in the city in which I was raised. The other day, when I went to a cafe with a friend, someone snapped a picture without asking permission. I felt bad for my friend as well.

Thankfully, right now I am doing a lot of work abroad, and even if I feel I can’t act as I used to in Japan, I have the confidence that I can carry out my work elsewhere. Otherwise, I think I would be suffering a lot more.

Yet if everyone who has had an experience like mine and dared to speak out had to leave their companies or communities, that would be truly cruel. I believe it is our responsibility to create a society where victims can speak, receive the care they need, and have peace of mind.

Did you receive any reactions to your press conference?

I get many emails. They are from people who were exploited by their bosses but decided, after considering their situation, that they couldn’t tell anyone. I get emails from people saying they had to keep it a secret for 10 or 15 years.

Even after 10 or 20 years, certain wounds don’t heal. Still, I think their burden would be eased if society and the people around them were more accepting of them. I believe this is one of the things we can do, and one of the things we can change.

I believe what happened to you could happen to me and to the people I care about. What would you say to someone who may have suffered as you did, and are now in doubt as to whether to speak out?

First of all, you are not alone. That’s what I want to tell them.

Secondly, no matter what those around you might say, yours is the one truth, and you should believe it. That’s all I would say.

This piece was originally published by HuffPost Japan.