Japan has passed historic reforms to its sex crime laws, redefining rape and raising the age of consent in a bid to protect victims of sexual violence and align with international standards.
The new law, which was passed unanimously by the upper house of parliament on Friday, broadens the definition of rape from “forcible sexual intercourse” to “non-consensual sexual intercourse”, recognising that victims may not be able to resist due to fear, intimidation, or intoxication.
Previously, prosecutors had to prove that victims were incapacitated by violence or threats, which critics said blamed victims for not resisting enough and deterred them from reporting their attacks.
The law also outlines eight scenarios where it is difficult for a victim to “form, express, or fulfil an intention not to consent” to sexual intercourse. These include situations where the victim is subject to violence or threats; or is “frightened or astonished”. Another scenario appears to describe an abuse of power, where the victim is “worried” of the consequences of refusal.
“The actual trial processes and decisions vary – some defendants were not convicted even if their acts were proven to be non-consensual, as they did not meet the case of ‘assault or intimidation'”, said Yuu Tadokoro, a spokesman for Spring, a sexual assault survivor group.
Megumi Okano, a rape survivor who did not report their attack by a fellow university student, said: “As I couldn’t pursue [justice] that way, he got to live a free and easy life. It is painful to me.”
The legal age of consent, previously at 13 and one of the lowest among developed nations, has been raised to 16 years. However, a person who has had sex with a minor aged 13 to 15 will be punished only if the person is five or more years older than the minor.
This is only the first time Japan has changed its age of consent since its enactment in 1907.
Meanwhile, the statute of limitations or legal window for reporting rape will be extended to 15 years from 10 years, to give survivors more time to come forward.
New laws passed on Friday also ban “photo voyeurism” which include upskirting and secret filming of sexual acts, among other things.
Japan has been looking at several penal code changes to strengthen legislation against sex crimes after multiple rape acquittals in 2019 caused national outcry. That same year, the nationwide Flower Demo campaign against sexual violence started. On the 11th day of every month since April 2019, activists would gather throughout Japan to demand justice and show solidarity with sexual assault survivors.
Japan redefines rape and raises age of consent in landmark move, BBC News, 6/16/2023
Japan raises age of consent from 13 to 16 in reform of sex crimes law, The Guardian, 6/16/2023
Japan (finally) changes a century-old law: The age of consent is now 16, MSN News, 6/16/2023
No means no: Japan is set to redefine rape, MSN News, 6/6/2023