TOKYO – 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.
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, who sought damages of about $100,000, visited a women’s clinic the next day to receive treatment and filed a criminal complaint with police, though it took weeks to get them to accept it and start investigating. Prosecutors eventually dropped the case, without explaining to her why.
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 after the ruling, Yamaguchi accused Ito of “telling lies” and said he would appeal. The judgment, he said, was “not based on objective facts.”
Suzuki said Ito’s attempt to seek the truth in the case and how it was handled, and promote awareness about social and legal issues surrounding sexual assault, was based on an intent to serve the public interest and did not constitute defamation of the defendant.
The judge’s finding in Ito’s case was notable in that Japan’s sex crime laws do not mention consent. Japan increased penalties for rape and widened the definition of sexual assault victims in 2017, with a review due next year. Women’s rights activists, academics and legal experts say hurdles are still too high for victims and further changes to the law are needed.
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 nearly 60% of women who are victims of rape do not report the crime.
“Even though the ruling was a victory for many sexual assault victims, it also revealed the problems of the criminal justice system,” said writer and activist Minori Kithara.
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 nonconsensual 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.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.