Woman wins high-profile #MeToo case in Japan against TV journalist

  • >> Motoko Rich and Hisako Ueno, The New York Times
    Published: 2019-12-19 16:40:09 BdST

A Tokyo court on Wednesday sided with a woman who accused a prominent television journalist of rape, ordering him to pay her damages worth about $30,000 in a ruling that the victim called a milestone in Japan.

In the closely watched civil case, the Tokyo District Court ordered Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a former Washington bureau chief of the Tokyo Broadcasting System and a biographer of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, to pay the damages to Shiori Ito, a journalist who has become a feminist icon in Japan for being one of the few women willing to speak out about sexual assault there.

Judge Akihiro Suzuki said in his ruling that he found Ito “highly trustworthy” and accepted her account of being assaulted in Yamaguchi’s hotel room after he took her to dinner in Tokyo in 2015 to discuss job prospects.

Noriyuki Yamaguchi, one of Japan’s most well-known television journalists, who was accused of raping Shiori Ito when she was an intern, in Tokyo, Oct 18, 2017. A Tokyo court on Dec 18, 2019, sided with a Ito, ordering Yamaguchi to pay her damages worth about $30,000 in a ruling that the victim called a milestone in Japan. The New York Times

Noriyuki Yamaguchi, one of Japan’s most well-known television journalists, who was accused of raping Shiori Ito when she was an intern, in Tokyo, Oct 18, 2017. A Tokyo court on Dec 18, 2019, sided with a Ito, ordering Yamaguchi to pay her damages worth about $30,000 in a ruling that the victim called a milestone in Japan. The New York Times

The judge said Yamaguchi had committed “an illegal act” by engaging in sexual intercourse with Ito without her consent while she was inebriated and unconscious, and continuing even after she awoke and refused him.

Ito had sought damages of about $100,000 after the police had conducted an investigation and decided against arresting Yamaguchi, and prosecutors had not indicted him on criminal charges.

Yamaguchi had countersued for damages of about $1.2 million, but the court said his claims were “groundless.”

Speaking in front of the court building after the judgment, Ito, who is now working as a freelance journalist, thanked her supporters.

“It has been a long time,” she said. “But even little by little, a big change is happening. The scene I am witnessing is completely different from the one I used to see before.”

At a news conference following the ruling, Yamaguchi accused Ito of “telling lies” and said he would appeal. The judgment, he said, was “not based on objective facts.”

Shiori Ito, who says she was raped by Noriyuki Yamaguchi, one of Japan’s most well-known television journalists, in Tokyo, Jun 13, 2017. A Tokyo court on Dec 18, 2019, sided with a Ito, ordering Yamaguchi to pay her damages worth about $30,000 in a ruling that the victim called a milestone in Japan. The New York Times

Shiori Ito, who says she was raped by Noriyuki Yamaguchi, one of Japan’s most well-known television journalists, in Tokyo, Jun 13, 2017. A Tokyo court on Dec 18, 2019, sided with a Ito, ordering Yamaguchi to pay her damages worth about $30,000 in a ruling that the victim called a milestone in Japan. The New York Times

The judge’s finding in Ito’s case was notable in that Japan’s sex crime laws do not mention consent.

In 2018, police confirmed 1,307 cases of rape in Japan. That figure most likely undercounts the number of assaults: A survey by the central government’s Cabinet Office in 2017 found that close to 60% of women who are victims of rape do not report the crime.

In her news conference on Wednesday, Ito said she hoped that Japan’s rape laws would be revised to include consent, making it possible for other victims to pursue criminal charges.

“If non-consensual sexual intercourse is defined as rape in the law,” she said, “the hurdle to prosecute would be much lower.”

Ito added that she wanted to send a message to others who have experienced sexual assault. “I want to tell them, ‘Thank you so much for surviving until today,’” she said. “When you feel better, I hope to take action together.” 

 

© 2019 New York Times News Service