Wednesday, July 10, 2024
HomenewsThree Japanese ex-soldiers convicted in landmark sex assault case

Three Japanese ex-soldiers convicted in landmark sex assault case

A court in Japan has found three former soldiers guilty of sexually assaulting a female colleague, in a case that has broken taboos and brought the issue of sexual violence to the forefront in the male-dominated society.

The court in Fukushima on Tuesday sentenced the three men — Shutaro Shibuya, Akito Sekine and Yusuke Kimezawa — to two-year suspended jail terms for the 2021 assault of soldier Rina Gonoi.

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Gonoi, 24, drew national and global attention when she took to YouTube in 2022 to share her account after an internal military investigation was dropped.

The public attention from the viral video and a petition signed by more than 100,000 people forced the Ministry of Defence to acknowledge the assault, apologise, and dismiss five of the men involved.

This March, prosecutors reversed an earlier decision and charged three of the assailants with “forced indecency”.

Gonoi, who was in court for Tuesday’s verdict, said her decision to go public – rare in conservative Japan – was “desperate rather than brave”.

Daily harassment

Gonoi said she experienced daily harassment after joining Japan’s military in 2020.

“When walking down the hallway, someone slaps you on your hip, or holds you from behind,” she said.

“I was kissed on the cheek, and my breasts were grabbed.”

Then, during a drill in 2021, she says three fellow soldiers forced her to the ground, pulled apart her legs and each repeatedly pressed their crotches against her while others watched and laughed.

She complained to her superiors at the time of the incident but later decided to leave the army when no action was taken.

The men denied their acts amounted to sexual assault.

‘Stigma and shame’

Gonoi’s quest for justice attracted international recognition: Time Magazine named her on its list of 100 emerging world leaders while the British Broadcasting Corporation included her among its 100 most influential women globally.

“I am appreciative of the fact that they value what I’m doing. There is a tendency in Japan when people speak up, they get criticised,” Gonoi said.

Gonoi’s case has also highlighted the prevalence of sexual violence and gender inequality in the country.

“In Japan, suffering sexual violence brings stigma and shame, often leaving survivors reluctant to come forward,” Teppei Kasai from Human Rights Watch said.

A 2021 government survey showed that about six percent of assault victims, men and women, went to the police, while nearly half of the female respondents said they could not because of “embarrassment”, Kasai said.

Inspired by Gonoi, however, more than 1,400 women and men have submitted their allegations of sexual harassment and bullying in the military following a special inspection by the Ministry of Defence.

In June, Japan passed legislation redefining rape, including removing the requirement that victims prove they had sought to resist their attacker.

The country has been trying to recruit more women soldiers and build up its military to deter its powerful neighbour China and nuclear-armed North Korea.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies

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