Sexual crimes against foreigners in Japan – Part 2
Friday, July 26, 2019
8 steps to help yourself or another in the event of a sexual crime
Now that you're aware of how Japan’s laws and the police fail at handling sexual crimes, you are armed with knowledge about the system. You are better placed to take action to help yourself and others. Here’s how –
Important numbers and phrases
To reach the police, call 110.
Telephone counselling services are provided by the prefectural police department at: Sex Crimes 110.
- Police station is kōban「交番」.
- Sex crime is seihanzai 「性犯罪」.
- Molester / molestation in general is chikan 「痴漢」.
- Sexual harassment is seku hara (in katakana) or seiteki iyagarase「性的嫌がらせ」.
- To ask for help, say tasukete kudasai 「 助けてください」.
- For an ambulance, call 119.
- For medical emergency, say kyū kyū desu 「救急です」.
Public pay phones can be used to make an emergency call for free. Just push the red button for emergency.
What you can do to help yourself
These 8 points are largely ranked in order of priority, based on the experiences of some. They may not always apply in the given sequence. Do what makes the most sense to you with respect to your situation and given environment.
- Reach out to a victim support centre in your area and in your home country
- Contact your embassy
- Get a bilingual lawyer
- Make a police report
- Tell your employer, break the delirious Wa
The trauma of having been sexually harassed or assaulted can mentally block your ability to remember the chain of events that led up to the attack, not to mention the details of the attack itself. It is the body’s way of self-defence.
It is therefore even more critical to write it all down before you forget altogether. It might feel like you are forcing yourself to write at first but writing is also known to be a cathartic exercise. As you write, you alone have full control over recounting what happened. This could facilitate composure as well as provide you with clarity – the kind that empowers you to take action.
- Write in your first language, exactly what happened to you, in as much detail as you can recall.
- Write it down as soon as you can.
- Get this written account translated into Japanese as soon as you can. Ask friends or colleagues for translation help. If they can’t do it themselves, they could possibly point you in the right direction.
Translation costs (apart from legal fees) are hefty enough to deter one from pursuing their case. Try to find pro bono help within your informal network(s) first. Otherwise, consider Global Voices – an international community of multilingual bloggers, for their translation services.
Save anything that you believe could be evidence of the attack.
For example, clothes you wore during the attack – place them each in a separate paper bag. Avoid using plastic bags. Avoid washing and/or cleaning the areas affected by the assault. Get yourself to a hospital or clinic for medical care as soon as possible. TELL Japan and the Tokyo Rape Crisis Center both offer information on counselling and medical services.
Hold on to text messages sent by the offender or others somehow linked to the offence. As counterintuitive as it might be, avoid blocking your offender on personal messaging platforms for the time being. If he/she is still contacting you, you could possibly get a confession or evidence of continual harassment that could be used for a restraining order.
A leading reason for no prosecution and cases being dismissed is the lack of sufficient evidence. So you want this digital paper trail.
Why is recording the incident important?
Your written record…
is your reference guide, which can help you overcome bouts of panic when/if you suddenly forget what happened – it can therefore keep you calm in intimidating settings
is your first report that you can submit to your lawyer, employer, embassy and the police, that can facilitate proper investigation into your case – your case deserves this due process
will allow you to maintain consistency in retelling your case, which is critical to proving your truth and the actual occurrence of a crime having been committed
2. Act sooner rather than later
Reporting your case to the police can be scary and overwhelming. Knowing additionally that you may face incompetent law enforcement in Japan would probably deter you even more. This is a system designed to discourage you from speaking up… which is precisely why it’s important that you do.
So take your fear along and act anyway.
While you can wait to report your case to the police, the time window is much smaller if you have physical evidence on your person, such as in the event of a rape. Collection of such evidence is time-sensitive so do act as soon as you can.
Many cases go unreported because years have passed since the attack occurred.
Act anyway. It’s still not too late.
Know that you don’t have to act alone.
3. Inform a trusted friend or colleague who can help you
“Telling someone verbally who you trust is a big first step to practicing telling an authority figure.” – Saseboanon
It is understandable to withdraw and isolate yourself in the wake of such atrocity and trauma but if you choose to take action, you don’t have to go about it alone. Engage others across multiple platforms and surround yourself with a circle of people who can and will support you. They can help you in many ways, such as:
- assisting with urgent actions like calling the police on your behalf
- providing emotional support by just listening
- providing physical and moral support by coming with you to make your report
- mediating with language support as a translator/interpreter
- explaining to you key cultural differences that would aid in your understanding of how the Japanese system works
- sharing their expertise in the field of individual rights, sexual crime laws and labour laws in Japan
In fact, someone who lives in your area may know a good contact that could help you. They might also be able to feel out how the local police may respond. So reach out to them.
Your Japanese co-workers could be a big help too. Some may want to help but hesitate out of fear of losing their job and so may not go out of their way. You need to advocate and push them – it might just be the nudge they need to overcome their fear. They may offer indirect forms of support such as informing management on your behalf or creating an outlet for you to inform in confidence rather than out in the open.
4. Reach out to a victim support centre in your area and in your home country
- Locate the closest victim support centre to you and call to ask for help. The centre could be useful in providing translation help and lawyer resources, and medical contacts. They could also assist with speaking to the police on your behalf.
The Police Support for Crime Victims guidebook provides a contact list of support centres by prefecture on its final page.
The JET General Information Handbook 2019 also includes a list on page 211, under its section on sexual harassment. It provides the contact numbers of Prefectural Labour Bureau Offices. Request to speak to the Equal Employment Department if your offender is a co-worker.
- Other than a local support centre, an additional measure you could take is to search for a support centre in your home country that deals with international cases. Your exchange may be more effective without the difficulty of communicating across a language barrier. They may also be able to advise you on resources specific to your citizenship/nationality that may be available in Japan.For example, in the US there is RAINN or the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network. It offers information about support, advice and referral. They also have a live chat option with a trained support specialist. It may however, be limited in scope to help with cases abroad.
- Otherwise, engage women’s support networks. They are your avenue for solidarity through sharing and can also work as an information resource about your rights, what else you can do or specific contacts you could reach.
5. Contact your embassy
Your country’s embassy may have restrictions on how they can help you but they still may be able to assist with lawyer resources and translation help so seek out this information from them and familiarize yourself with your rights as a citizen/national of your country.
Informing your embassy also allows them to document your case and alert/warn others.
The US embassy in Japan provides a site for legal assistance that further gives specific contact information for attorneys in select consular districts like Sapporo, Tokyo, Osaka-Kobe and Fukuoka, to name a few.
6. Get a bilingual lawyer
Even if you are proficient in Japanese, navigating your way through the legal system is a different ballgame altogether. It would be ideal to engage the services of a bilingual lawyer who fluently speaks both English and Japanese, in order to discuss your legal options and know your rights in Japan. Otherwise, make sure you enlist the help of a translator to communicate effectively with your lawyer.
Pathways to Safety is an international crisis centre that is great for legal advice. They are very professional and informative. Should you have to leave Japan and relocate in the middle of your case, your records will remain and your case can be resumed from your new location.
7. Make a police report
Because you matter and reporting a sexual crime matters.
i. If you are scared to contact the police directly, get a trustworthy intermediary who can speak Japanese well enough to contact the police on your behalf.ii. You could also contact the closest support agency in your area and have them alert the police on your behalf to indicate your interest in filing a report.iii. You don’t have to go to the police station alone.iv. Ideally, you should have contacted a lawyer by now and discussed your legal options before you make your report. If possible, have your lawyer go with you when you make your report.
v. If it isn’t possible to have a lawyer with you, ask a friend or colleague to go with you. You don’t have to make the report alone if you don’t feel comfortable to do so.
Even if the officer reassures you that he/she can speak English and that there isn’t the need for an escort, insist on having your support system by your side if you need support.
vi. Ask for a female police officer to handle your case. You are well within reason to do so.
Japan’s National Police Agency Office for Crime Victims dictates in its guidebook that “it is necessary to assign officers of the gender preferred by the victim”. Protocol also includes specific assignment of female offers to investigate sex crimes.
vii. Specifically ask to file a victim’s report.
Important note: Informing the police may not be the same as filing a victim’s report. You need to ask to file one and you may be actively discouraged from doing so.
For example, you may be told that:
Insist on filing a report anyway.
- your reason is not good enough
- there isn’t much point in a report if you’re leaving the country soon
- you are over the age of consent (minimum age of consent in Japan is 13 years old)
Over the age of consent does not equal to consent.
Leaving Japan soon doesn’t mean the crime didn’t happen.viii. Stay calm and be firm.
Any form of secondary victimization by the police is not appropriate. This includes any kind of shaming or expression of a personal opinion about your character.
ix. Have your written document and evidence ready for submission.
Be prepared to:
- verbally restate what is on the document
- prove any form of disability if you have one (wear your aid and/or bring along medical records along)
- have lots of photos taken
- re-enact the incident
x. Check if you can get a restraining order, especially if your offender happens to be someone you know or work with.
xi. Stress to be kept informed. Official police protocol dictates that you are meant to be kept updated on the progress of your case.
8. Tell your employer, break the delirious wa
Wa or 和 is a generic descriptor for ‘harmony’ in Japan. In fact, it literally means Japan or Japanese which alludes to an all-encompassing, cultural identity marker. Interestingly, 和 is refined from the ancient wa or 倭which symbolizes the Confucian ideals of submissiveness, conformity to the greater good and conflict-avoidance.
So there is a high chance that if your employer tells you not to go to the police, it is to save face and not break the precious wa. What’s important to remember here is that this ill-gotten advice is a cultural way of being and not legally binding. You have every right to make a police report should you wish to do so.
For this reason, police before employer might be the smarter way to go.
Also, the same obstruction that is wa can be turned on its head to suit your favour. If embarrassment is intolerable for the Japanese, getting an entity with established authority and clout to publicize the mismanagement might serve as an effective way to make your employer take action. Get your embassy to call your workplace if you feel like you aren’t being taken seriously. If you work at a school, parents, through active unions like the PTA, may act more swiftly to hold the school accountable if their children’s safety is at risk.
You also have the right to a safe work environment. If breaking the harmony by becoming the undesirable ‘troublemaker’ for reporting a sexual crime is how you can secure this safety, then perhaps alienation at your workplace might be well worth the risk.
A pre-emptive measure that you can take is to enquire about female safety and mental health resources during orientation. This information may later come in handy for your defence. Working in alignment with the system in this manner is strategically to your advantage.
For example, you could invoke the official code of conduct delineated in your work contract in order to stress on how it has been violated by the sex crime in concern. Don’t forget to quote the exact statement in your written report too.
Further, what you share with your employer is confidential, i.e. they have no business disclosing your report to your offender should he/she be a co-worker at the same organization. This could potentially tamper with an on-going police investigation.
In their discussion of ‘Dismissals in Japan’, authors Sugeno and Yamakoshi assess the stringency of Japanese labour laws on employers. They found that while reforms have curtailed abusive dismissals, “Japanese dismissal law is [still] premised upon the employer’s freedom of dismissal”, the grounds of which include the category of ‘misconduct’. In other words, your employer can easily enough terminate your offender’s employment.
A case closed isn’t a dead-end, it can be re-opened
The reason why it is important to spread awareness by reporting, informing, sharing, engaging multiple resources and lines of support, is that the domino effect can be tremendous. The power of unions for example, can get a case to the local media’s attention and stir up enough ‘warbulence’ such that the danger to Japan’s greater good (read: face) now lies in staying silent and not taking action.
Sensibilities then abruptly and strategically shift gear from keeping within the clean confines of delicate ‘wa-dom’, to showcasing due process in order to protect the very same wa now under threat. And this could happen by re-opening a case for proper investigation – a case that had once met its official end.
Finally, consider campaigning to support yourself, be it by setting up a GoFundMe page to support your legal fees. Tie up with a local media source or use your own social media platform to have your case heard. Journalist Shiori Ito leveraged on her position to hold a press conference after no charges were pressed against her celebrity offender. She got a lot of flak for it but her guts got her a global audience as witness too, one whose discomfort if continuously sustained, can potentially instigate home-grown change.
“Speak up and report, I know it’s difficult but people must speak up and advocate in order to see the change we want in society. Japan is slowly adopting #MeToo and fighting for their rights as women. Foreigner women need to add their voice in order to inclusively show Japan how women deserve to be respected and treated.”
The content and direction for this article were greatly informed by the generosity in sharing and courage of Saseboanon – a woman currently in pursuit of justice for her case of sexual assault in Japan. Please read her story and donate to her cause to support her legal fees.
Thank you, Saseboanon.
About the Author
Born in Kobe and left my soul behind when I moved to Singapore, cradled by the valleys of suburban Nagasaki, in a magical pottery town called Hasami, from which I've newly returned after working as an English teacher at the local high/elementary schools. Japan has given me so much, it'll take a lifetime's worth to keep giving back. This is but one way.