Sexual Harassment Cases Rock Japan Self-Defense Ministry This Week

Sexual Harassment Cases Rock Japan Self-Defense Ministry This Week

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Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) member at attention next to a tank.
A series of sexual abuse scandals have rocked the Japan Self-Defense Forces. Now, a legal group is trying to discover how deep the issue goes.

The following article discusses sexual abuse. If you are sensitive to the topic, please refrain from reading further. For English-assisted help in Japan, call the U.S. Embassy & Consulates in Japan’s Sexual Assault Relief Center (SARC) Tokyo at 03-5607-0799 (24 hours available). Other numbers are listed at the bottom of the article.

Third-party Probe into Self-Defense Force Corruption Begins

Wednesday this week, the National Network for Human Rights Lawyers for Self-Defense Forces, or Jieikan no Jinken-Bengodan Zenkoku Network (自衛官の事件弁護団・全国ネットワーク) launched its own probe into harassment within Japan’s Self Defense Forces (SDF) as high profile cases of sexual abuse against now-retired female members have become the subject of news reports.

Current and Former SDF members, as well as their families, will answer a questionnaire by the legal group, which consists of twenty lawyers, before the December 31st deadline.

“The majority of victims are lower ranks members; the perpetrators are their superiors. Caught in a dynamic between command versus obedience, it is difficult (for victims) to speak up. To expose the reality, a third party (like us) should investigate,” said lawyer Hirofumi Satō at a press conference Wednesday.

The lawyers say their aim is to amplify the “real voices” of SDF members, which they allege fell through the cracks in the Defense Ministry’s own Special Inspection, or Tokubetsu Boei Kansatsu (特別防衛観察) last year.

Signage for the Japanese Defense Ministry in kanji lettering.
Signage at the entrance to the Japanese Defense Ministry.

Exposed: SDF’s Tone-Deaf Underbelly

The ministry’s large-scale internal inspection, launched in a hurried response to former Ground SDF member and sexual assault victim Gonoi Rina’s (now 24) claims, yielded victim testimony which current SDF members say prompted no response.

The institution’s tone-deaf handling of harassment cases underlined the Maritime SDF’s arrests of two current male members for “false accusations” of power harassment against a senior corporal in September last year. After witnessing cases of power harassment by superiors, including a colleague at Yokosuka Naval Base who ultimately committed suicide in 2018, the two filed a petition for disciplinary action against the abuser in question in February 2022.

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Military Police arrested the two in September of that year and conducted residence searches. The two were released after two days in confinement after Yokosuka’s Prosecution Office decided not to file for further detention, dropping the case in November.

This April, the two men–––still members of the MSDF but benched to “just sit all day in a room”–––filed a civil lawsuit demanding state compensation of ¥10 million.

Their arrests occurred just two weeks after the Ministry’s Special Inspection commenced.

“I can only see the internal inspection as a performance,” said one of the male plaintiffs.

The inspection’s findings of 1,325 harassment cases of which 179 involved alleged sexual abuse have put the SDF on a new form of defense, using measures to fight harassment – not to mention public scrutiny.

Forced Apology Disappoints

The Defense Ministry found itself in hotter water this Tuesday when Defense Minister Kihara Minoru exited a Cabinet meeting to deliver the news on an “outrageous” response by the Maritime SDF to a sexual harassment case last year.

Upon discovering that his subordinate had physically and verbally harassed a lower-ranking female member repeatedly between August and December last year, an MSDF senior officer ordered the perpetrator to apologize despite the now-resigned victim’s refusal to meet with her abuser.

As Kihara issued a directive calling for all relevant parties to promptly report on the status of responses to harassment cases on Monday from Tokyo, up north in Fukushima–––where Gonoi was stationed at the time of her assault–––prosecutors demanded the court issue two-year prison sentences to each of the three ex-GSDF males on charges of sexual indecency, or waisetsu na koui (わいせつな行為).

Gonoi, while still in the SDF. Picture: NTV (via YouTube)

Ruined Dream Inspires Activism and Hope

Gonoi is now an advocate against sexual abuse–––for which Time magazine has named her among the 100 emerging world leaders in 2023.  

Her earliest encounter with the SDF was during her rescue by female soldiers in the aftermath of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami, which inspired her dream to join the institution in which 90% of personnel are men. In 2021, women made up a mere 7.9% of SDF personnel.

By 2030, the Ministry of Defense projects its female force to reach 12% at the current recruitment rate.

Gonoi, even after resigning in June 2022, publicly advocates for more female inclusivity in the SDF today.

“To be an SDF member is an amazing job. I want (the SDF) to create an environment in which women can feel safe working,” she told reporters at a press conference earlier this year upon filing a civil lawsuit against her five abusers and the state. The suit totaled ¥7.5 million.

Gonoi submitted the lawsuit to the Yokohama District Court, demanding state compensation of ¥2 million for the government’s failure to prevent abuse and investigate her claims. The suit also demanded compensation of ¥5.5 million for suffering emotional pain from sexual abuse at the hands of five male perpetrators.

During a public hearing in June, the state acknowledged the Ministry’s fault in its handling of the abuse – but withheld its answer regarding Gonoi’s demands for compensation.

Four out of five accused ex-members–––all of whom left the GSDF on dishonorable discharges last year–––filed for a dismissal, which sparked the beginning of the still-ongoing trial between them and Gonoi.

On Monday, three of the accused (Shibuya Shutaro (30), Sekine Akito (29), and Kimezawa Yusuke (29)) pleaded not guilty as the Prosecution Office presented its proposal of two-year prison sentences for each.

Sentencing is scheduled for next month, December 12th at 13:00.

Timeline of the Gonoi Trials

2022

September: Gonoi files charges for indecent assault against Shibuya, Sekine, and Kimezawa. Prosecutors throw Gonoi’s case out.

Meanwhile, the SDF begins negotiating with Gonoi for a settlement and orders the accused to apologize. The accused concede but go silent, which Gonoi recognizes as a sign that they “don’t really feel remorse,” and decides to take the case to court.

2023

March: Prosecutors reverse September 2022 decision to throw Gonoi’s case out and file charges against the three perpetrators for sexual abuse. The suit accuses the three ex-GSDF members of using judo moves to force Gonoi down onto a bed and get on top of her, pressing their bodies against hers at a drinking party after training hours on August 3rd, 2021.

June: At the opening hearing, the three perpetrators admit to pushing her down onto the bed but denied touching her lower body and claimed that their “actions did not qualify as indecent assault.”

July: Gonoi faints after becoming ill during witness testimony during the second hearing and is sent to the hospital.

September: Shibuya says, “I was told to make a (judo) move on her but nobody gave a reaction so (I) moved my hips back and forth to get a laugh (from others).”

The Shibuya Transcript

Lawyer: What time did the drinking party start in the training facility’s room 208?

Shibuya: Around 7 PM.

Lawyer: When you entered the room, who was there?

Shibuya: My superiors, three peers, and Gonoi.

Lawyers: Did someone say anything to you?

Shibuya: My superior told me “Do a neck twist (judo move).”

Lawyer: Did you make a (judo) move on Gonoi-san on your own account?

Shibuya: No. I did so on my superior’s order.

Lawyer: Did the accused say anything to Gonoi?

Shibuya: I told her “I’ll make the (judo) move on you.”

Lawyer: Did Gonoi say anything?
Shibuya: She said, “Okay, go ahead.”

Lawyer: How quickly did you twist her neck?
Shibuya: Slowly so as not to hurt (Gonoi).

Lawyer: Why did you sway your hips back and forth?

Shibuya: My superior had told me to make the (judo) move but nobody gave a reaction so I thought I’d get a laughing reaction out of them.

Lawyer: Did you hover over Gonoi?

Shibuya: No.

Lawyer: Did your private parts come into contact?
Shibuya: No.

Lawyer: What have you heard about Gonoi’s remarks during the 2021 internal investigation?
Shibuya: That one person was ordered to hold her hands, another her legs, and the third to mount her like a horse and shake (his) hips.

Lawyer: Did Gonoi’s claims change after that?

Shibuya: In September of 2022 she changed her story to say that each person made (judo) moves on her.

Lawyer: Did your actions toward Gonoi have any sexual meaning?
Shibuya: No.


Lawyer: Did you say anything to Gonoi afterward?

Shibuya: I said “Sorry.”

Lawyer: What did you say sorry for?
Shibuya: For making a (judo) move on her.

Lawyer: And what did Gonoi reply with?

Shibuya: She told me, “No problem, because I really like you Sergeant Shibuya.”

Lawyer: Your hip movements were not for mimicking sexual intercourse?

Shibuya: No.

Lawyer: Did you admit that it was mimicking sexual intercourse to prosecutors?
Shibuya: I did after they repeatedly pushed me with the question, “It was mimicking, right?”

Lawyer: Who did the same actions as you?
Shibuya: Sekine.

Lawyer: Did you see Kimezawa’s acts?

Shibuya: No.

Lawyer: Was Kimezawa in the room?

Shibuya: I don’t remember.

Lawyer: What kind of investigation were you put under at the SDF?

Shibuya: I was (questioned) in the mornings and afternoons every day and even on holidays.

Lawyer: Did the SDF send you any documents?
Shibuya: There was a document ordering three of us accused and one superior to apologize to Gonoi. It also included a script for answering questions.

Lawyer: Did the SDF order you to apologize?

Shibuya: We got orders individually.

Lawyer: What was the contents of the order?

Shibuya: What our facial expressions should be. Our tone of voice. That we need to get on our knees and bow. I was told that “Things will move along if (I) apologize.”

Lawyer: Have you ever hugged her?
Shibuya: No.

Lawyer: Have you ever hugged anyone else?
Shibuya: I did once. Everyone pressured me into doing it.

Lawyer: Who did you hug?

Shibuya: A retired member.

Links to sexual assault emergency hotlines.

Sources

[1] 自衛隊のハラスメント実態を把握へ 弁護士グループがアンケート. 朝日新聞

[2] 自衛官のハラスメント被害、弁護士20人超が全国調査へ 「第三者が調べて可視化すべき」. Yahoo!ニュースJAPAN

[3] セクハラで海自トップが陳謝 拒む女性に加害者面会を強要. Yahoo!ニュースJAPAN

[4] 元自衛官の五ノ井里奈さん、性暴力の加害者や国を提訴 「できればやりたくなかった」裁判へ踏み切った理由. 東京新聞

[5] 陸自元上司3人に懲役2年求刑 五ノ井さん「有罪望む」. 東京新聞

[6]【速報】元自衛官・五ノ井里奈さん性被害事件 元隊員3人に懲役2年求刑 被告は全員無罪主張 五ノ井さん「厳しく正しい判決を」. Yahoo!ニュースJAPAN

[7] 「笑い取るため」無罪主張続ける3被告 陸自性暴力、30日論告求刑. Yahoo!ニュースJAPAN

[8] 「陰部の接触はなく、性的意図は一切ない」「腰は一度も振っていない」被告2人が主張 五ノ井さん「もう許すことはない」【五ノ井里奈さん性被害事件・第4回後半詳細】. TBS NEWS DIG

[9] セクハラで海自トップが陳謝 拒む女性に加害者面会を強要. Yahoo!ニュースJAPAN

[10] パワハラを告発したら逮捕された自衛官たち…五ノ井里奈さんとの出会いに背中を押されて国を訴えた. 東京新聞

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