In Japan, More Women Report Domestic Crimes

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Japanese burn, domestic abuse survivor.

TOKYO (WOMENSENEWS)–Japanese women are showing signs of breaking the taboo against reporting cases of domestic violence to the police.

A key indicator of that: a healthy jump in the number of women speaking out to protect themselves and their children.

Reports of domestic abuse handled by police increased by more than 20 percent last year to a record 25,200 cases, the fifth straight annual rise, according to data from the National Police Agency in March 2009. More than 98 percent of the victims were women.

“Social norms are changing and what used to be an unfortunate private family matter is now seen as unacceptable and requiring state intervention,” said Jeffrey Kingston, director of Asian studies at Temple University in Tokyo.

After a couple of extreme cases drew widespread publicity in the 1990s, lawmakers here made history by criminalizing domestic violence in 2001 with the Act on the Prevention of Spousal Violence Law.

Law Creates Consequences

The law created a system for preventing and dealing with the consequences of domestic violence and made provisions for courts to impose restraining orders. Failure to comply with court orders, under the law, is punishable by up to one year in prison and fines up to about $10,000.

Beginning in 2002, the government also began to provide funding for shelters for abuse survivors in every prefecture in Japan. Currently, there are about 117 shelters hidden in back streets with no signs. They offer counseling services, temporarily protect victims and provide information.

“The media, government and medical and legal professionals are also working to stem this hidden scourge,” Kingston said. “But it’s still a long road ahead.”

Kingston said that numerous analysts here agree that, despite the rise in reporting of abuse, many victims remain silent about their suffering and are reluctant to involve the authorities.

Many people are also unaware that they have legal recourse if abused. Forty percent of people over age 20 don’t know there is a domestic violence prevention law and only 14 percent of people over 40 are familiar with it, according to the Gender Agency Bureau, based in Tokyo.

Kingston said Japan’s legal apparatus lags far behind that of the United States, where there is established precedent for battered wife syndrome as a mitigating factor in spouse murders.

Women and Children at Risk

Women and children in Japan remain at unacceptably high risk of domestic abuse, especially now as the economic misery index soars. A Cabinet Office survey, which was conducted in October-November of last year, found that 33.2 percent of married women have experienced physical and mental abuse from their husbands–these numbers were unchanged from the previous survey in 2005.

Only around 3 percent of these women consulted with police or a hospital and about 1 percent turned to prefecture help centers, lawyers or private-sector shelters. Of the women who experienced domestic violence from their husbands, 34.4 percent said they were injured or developed mental disorders.

Volunteer women’s groups and lawyers are doing what they can to educate the public about domestic violence, said Keiko Otsu, a committee member of the Tokyo Women’s Shelter. “We want victims to call us so we can tell them how to escape, to come to our shelters and let them know that they are not alone,” she said.

Otsu said that Japanese courts are routinely harder on women than men, and that judges often sympathize with husbands’ behaviors. In her view, women who bring charges of domestic violence often suffer degrading treatment from the police, lawyers, mediators and judges involved in their cases.

Sachiko Utsumi, 33, spent the last several months in a women’s shelter in Osaka. She said she is grateful for the help.

“My husband beat me for three years for any reason,” she said. “I finally couldn’t take it anymore.”

Catherine Makino, based in Tokyo, is a correspondent for Inter Press Service. She has worked for numerous publications and broadcasters, including The San Francisco Chronicle, Voice of America Radio, Japan Times and Asian Wall Street Journal.

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One thought on “In Japan, More Women Report Domestic Crimes

  1. Yes, as in all countries in the world, there is a lot of domestic violence in Japan too. For anyone interested in the severe problems faced by victims of domestic violence in Japan check out this report in April this year from Al Jazeera’s Tony Birtley reports from Tokyo on the women who are speaking out about the problem.

    Althoug the report is well done well researched it seems to imply at the end that nothing is going to chance for a long time about the problem of domestic violence in Japan.

    Here, as in any other country in the world historically, there has been domestic violence in all types of societies, not in the least of course in societies and cultures that have taken a sexist (‘paternalistic’) view that women were not as equal as men and could be beaten and suffer abuse at the hands of their husbands.

    Now, thanks to the work of volunteer women’s groups and activist lawyers in Japan who have worked hard against this problem of violence against women and children in their homes, the Japanese government enacted the Act on the Prevention of Spousal Violence and the Protection of Victims in 2001. This was the first official recognition by Japanese politicians and law makers in Japanese history that domestic violence is in fact a crime. As a first step it was an important recognition of the widespread problem of spousal violence against women in Japanese homes throughout Japan. However there was considerable criticism that the low financial fines on Japanese husbands who attack their wives and the limit of only 1 month long restraining orders on men who abused their wives and children did not go far enough to provide Japanese women with a credible degree of legal protection and safety from further violent attacks. The law was revised to some extent in 2004 but still met with criticism as not going far enough to protect the victims of domestic and also for not focusing on the men who are being violent toward their wives and children:

    Amendments to the Domestic Violence Prevention Act were passed and became law in July 2007 but did not receive so much attention in the media as would have been desirable:

    However more and more Japanese women are taking action in Japan and, like the women featured in the video above, are no longer to suffer without protest former generations have had to do without any effective legal protection. The following links are to articles on domestic violence and National Police Agency reports that have appeared in the media this year that show that modern Japanese women in 21st century Japan are standing up against violent husbands and using the existing laws to protect themselves and their children:

    These brave women need and deserve stronger and even more effective legal protection for themselves and the children they are trying to protect from their own fathers hands. There needs also to be considerable public and national political will focused on providing Japanese wives and partners with safe emergency residences and legally protected abuse shelters. I think it is also of vital importance that serious decisions to provide and implement official funding to ensure that refuge and protection to all women who are suffering domestic violence of all forms.

    Andrew Grimes
    Tokyo Counseling Services