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RIGHTS-JAPAN: Privacy Invaded in Sex Crime Trial

TOKYO, Dec 22 2009 (IPS) - Japan’s first sex crime trial under the new lay judge system finished in September amid large-scale media attention that troubled the female victims.

The two women, who were raped and robbed, wavered on testifying because they were worried about their privacy. The defendants were sentenced to 15 years in prison.

According to Noriko Moriya, lawyer and associate professor of crime victim studies at Tokiwa University, little thought was given to the feelings of these two women who were seriously troubled by the attention given to the case.

Under the new system, six citizens are randomly chosen from a list of eligible voters to sit on the bench with three professional judges and pass judgments for serious crimes, including murder. They are also allowed to question witnesses and help decide the sentence. This was implemented in May 2009.

In First PersonJane, as she calls herself, was raped by a U.S. Navy sailor in 2002 in Japan. “I was concerned when I heard that the privacy of rape victims would not be taken into consideration, as lay judges would have first hand knowledge of rape victims addresses and other such personal details,” she said. “I deem that addresses of rape victims are unnecessary in finding a rapist guilty in the courtroom and that if the authorities really want rape victims to come forward with our testimonies then our privacy should be protected.

“I was also shocked that my case against the Kanagawa Police, (who had kept me captive at their police station for at least 14 hours since I was raped), at the Supreme Court came to an abrupt end when the media called me for comments for my case.

“Apparently it seems that in Japan, the privacy of rape victims is never taken into consideration, as in my own case, the first persons to whom my case hearing judgment conclusions was told was not I, not my legal team, but to the public and the mass media.

“My only thoughts to the media at that time was ‘no comment’ as I was in shock that the courts of Japan would have totally disregarded the rights of rape victims that had come forward to help others in society by reporting the rape against them.

“I feel that the courts of Japan have made a mockery of rape victims and the new system will only deter rape victims from speaking out against the crimes that have occurred against them, moreover rapists will be able to roam free as they have in my own case, ready to rape again, until true justice rings through the air.”

There weren’t any measures taken to protect the privacy of women from the citizen judges. The women’s personal information, such as name and age and detailed accounts of the damage they suffered were also revealed to them, Moriya noted. While the two women testified from separate rooms through a videoconference system, the lay judges could see their faces through a monitor placed before them.

There was also intense media coverage on this case. Furthermore, lay judges are ordinary people who are susceptible to media bias. Japanese lay judges are not sequestered, and go home everyday.

A Kyoto News poll found 90.3 percent of respondents of the opinion that news articles will influence lay judges and 62.8 percent agree with some judges and lawyers who said crime reporting needs to be changed to make sure the media do not sway lay judges. Japan’s parliament dropped a provision calling on the media to exercise caution in influencing readers and viewers when reporting on crimes.

The Asia-Japan Women’s Resource Centre and other women’s rights groups are up in arms that the names of sex crime victims and details of assaults on them could be released during the selection process for lay judges.

Prejudice against female sex crime victims is deep-rooted in Japanese society. It is not uncommon for victims to become targets of unjust defamation, causing secondary damage. The fact is, a large number of victims do not even report the crime or file criminal complains because their privacy would be violated.

Japan’s Gender Equality Bureau in 2006 released a study finding that of 1,578 female respondents about 7 percent said they had been raped, at least once. Of those, only about 5 percent – 6 out of 114 – reported the crime to the police. Of those who remained silent, nearly 40 percent said they were “embarrassed.”

“The danger of this information leaking out cannot be ruled out,” Moriya said. “The methods that could infringe on the privacy of victims and cause further harm in court proceedings must be abolished.”

In some cases, victims of sex crimes gave up reporting to police and going to court because they didn’t want a trial under the citizen judge system. They also hesitate because they believe their details could be passed on to complete strangers and even end up on the Internet. Instead they opted for out-of-court settlements.”

Possible SolutionsCreate environments in which female survivors of sex crimes will not hesitate to report crimes to authorities and seek prosecution. A system of fair trails that do not subject female survivors to further damage by invading their privacy.

Present the facts of the crime in writing instead of verbally testifying could be another solution.

Measures designed to alleviate the burden on victims should be studied and discussed. For example, a balance in the number of male and female citizen judges should be carefully considered.

Moriya calls these serious sex crimes offenses the “murder of the soul”, and condemns the further violation of their privacy by the citizen judge system.

Dr. Hisako Watanabe, a child psychiatrist and assistant professor at Keio University in Tokyo who has treated rape victims, including small children, for 35 years, says rape against women is seen as one of the most shameful experiences in Japan.

In fact, Keiko Otsu, a committee member of the Tokyo Women’s Shelter, says Japanese courts are usually harder on women than men. In domestic violence cases women she believes women who bring charges of domestic violence often suffer degrading treatment from the police, lawyers, mediators and judges involved in their cases.

Invading their privacy during the trial under the current lay justice system could be more detrimental than the trauma of the sex crime itself. A rape victim, who requested not to be identified, agreed. She says the new system does not protect a woman’s privacy.

“I came in court through the same door as my perpetrator and spectators,” she told IPS. “I had asked the court that my name not be revealed. But my perpetrator’s lawyer shouted and screamed at me, and intentionally told the court my real name and address.”

She challenged the judge about this, but he didn’t take her complaints seriously. She wants people to know what is happening in the Japanese court system.

“The rights of women need to be protected,” she says. “The court and the police department won’t protect us. You need to be strong and determined to get through this.”

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