Japan redefines rape and increases the age of consent in a significant measure

In a historic revision of sex crime laws, Japan has passed laws that redefine rape and increase the age of consent. The definition of rape was changed from "forced sexual intercourse" to "non-consensual sexual intercourse," aligning Japanese law with the definitions of other nations.

The legal age of consent has been raised from 13 to 16 years of age. Critics assert that previous laws did not protect those forced to engage in sexual activity and discouraged the reporting of such assaults. Inconsistent court decisions have also resulted, fueling cries for reform.

Friday, the upper house of the Diet, Japan's parliament, passed the new statutes. They list eight circumstances in which it is difficult for a victim to "form, express, or carry out an intention not to consent" to sexual contact. These include situations in which the victim is under the influence of alcohol or narcotics, is the target of violence or threats, or is "terrified or astonished." Another scenario appears to depict a power abuse in which the victim is "afraid" of the repercussions of refusing.

This is the first time since its enactment in 1907 that Japan has changed its age of consent. Historically, Japan's age of consent was one of the lowest among developed nations. A person who has had sexual contact with a minor aged 13 to 15 will only be punished if they are at least five years older than the minor.

In the meantime, the statute of limitations or legal window for reporting a rape will be increased from 10 to 15 years, giving survivors more time to come forward. The amendments also prohibit "photo voyeurism," which prohibits, among other things, upskirting and the covert filming of sexual acts.

It follows multiple acquittals for rape in 2019 that sparked national outrage and prompted a nationwide Flower Demo campaign against sexual assault. Since April 2019, activists have gathered on the eleventh of every month across Japan to demand justice and demonstrate solidarity with sexual assault survivors. However, some activists informed the sources that these legal reforms only address a portion of the issue.

Human Rights Now's vice president in Tokyo, Kazuko Ito, asserts that erroneous notions of sex and consent that have persisted for generations must be addressed. When survivors of sexual assault go public, they frequently receive online threats and insults. Even if the reforms are implemented, activists assert that survivors must feel empowered to disclose their assaults.

Survivors of sexual violence in Japan are frequently reluctant to come forward due to stigma and humiliation. A government survey conducted in 2021 revealed that only about a minor percentage of women and men had reported an assault, with half of the women polled citing "embarrassment" as their reason for not doing so.

Efforts in learning and education at the national level are necessary for this standard to become ingrained in the culture. Ms. Ito states that this is the only method to prevent actual sexual violence and end the culture of impunity.

Sakura Kamitani, a lawyer and rights advocate, told the sources that Japan should offer more financial and psychological assistance to sexual assault survivors. She added that attackers should also receive assistance to prevent recidivism.