TOKYO－A Japanese court on Wednesday awarded 3.3 million yen ($30,000) in damages to journalist Shiori Ito, who accused a former TV reporter of rape in one of the most high-profile cases of the #MeToo movement in Japan.
The civil case made headlines in Japan and abroad, as it is rare for rape victims to report the crime to police. According to a 2017 Japanese government survey, only 4 percent of women who say they were assaulted come forward.
Ito, 30, has become an outspoken symbol for #MeToo in Japan, where the movement against sexual harassment and abuse has struggled to take hold.
She had sought 11 million yen in compensation from Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a former reporter with close links to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. She alleged Yamaguchi raped her after inviting her to dinner to discuss a job opportunity in 2015.
Yamaguchi denies any wrongdoing and had filed a counter-suit against Ito, seeking 130 million yen in compensation.
“We won. The counter-suit was turned down,” said Ito outside the court, holding up a banner that read “victory” as supporters cheered and clapped.
“Honestly, I still don’t know how I feel,” she told reporters, struggling to hold back the tears. “However, winning this case doesn’t mean this (sexual assault) didn’t happen…. This is not the end.”
She said she hoped the case would change what she called the “under-developed” legal and social environment surrounding rape in Japan.
Sexual assault victims in Japan often shy away from reporting incidents to police or even telling friends, government data shows, for fear of being blamed and humiliated. Women’s rights activist Minori Kitahara said she hoped the ruling signaled attitudes were changing in Japan.
“I think that the voices of victims affected the ruling,” Kitahara said. “I am hopeful if people speak out, things will change.”
Japan raised the minimum jail term for rapists from three to five years and widened the definition of sexual assault victims to include men for the first time in 2017.
Lawmakers decided unanimously to update the 1907 statute to impose tougher penalties on sex attackers and make prosecutions easier, as they look to boost Japan’s low number of convictions.
Yamaguchi announced he would immediately appeal against the ruling, saying: “I have not done anything that goes against the law.”
He claimed the court had failed to acknowledge inconsistencies and falsehoods in Ito’s argument while ignoring his own arguments.