Japan Overhauls Sex Crime Laws: Redefines Rape and Raises Age of Consent in Landmark Move
Japan has made significant changes to its sex crime laws by redefining rape and raising the age of consent, marking a landmark overhaul of the legal framework.
The previous definition of rape, which referred to “forcible sexual intercourse,” has been broadened to “non-consensual sexual intercourse,” aligning it with the definitions used in other countries.
Furthermore, the legal age of consent has been raised from 13 to 16 years, acknowledging the need for increased protection for minors.
Critics of the previous laws argued that they failed to safeguard individuals who were coerced into sexual activities, leading to underreporting of such crimes. Inconsistent court decisions further fueled the demand for reforms.
The upper house of the Diet passed the new laws in Japan’s parliament on Friday. They outline eight specific scenarios where it may be difficult for a victim to express non-consent to sexual intercourse, including situations involving intoxication, threats, violence, fear, astonishment, and abuses of power.
This is the first time since 1907 that Japan has revised its age of consent, which was among the lowest among developed nations. However, engaging in sexual activities with a minor aged 13 to 15 will now be punishable only if the age difference between the parties is five years or more.
Additionally, the statute of limitations for reporting rape has been extended from 10 years to 15 years, giving survivors more time to come forward.
The reforms also encompass a ban on “photo voyeurism,” which includes acts like upskirting and secret filming of sexual acts.
These changes come in response to the national outcry triggered by multiple rape acquittals in 2019, which subsequently led to the Flower Demo campaign against sexual violence. Activists across Japan have held demonstrations on the 11th day of each month since April 2019, demanding justice and showing solidarity with sexual assault survivors.
However, some activists stress that legal reforms alone are insufficient to address the issue comprehensively. They highlight the need to confront the long-standing “distorted ideas” about sex and consent that persist in society. Kazuko Ito, vice president of Tokyo-based Human Rights Now, emphasizes that nationwide educational efforts are crucial to establishing new norms and preventing sexual violence.
Survivors who go public with their experiences often face threats and online harassment. Activists emphasize the importance of empowering survivors to report assaults and advocating for increased financial and psychological support. Additionally, supporting offenders to prevent recidivism is an important aspect of holistically addressing the issue.