Print Japanese women, long accustomed to enduring sexual harassment in silence, are speaking out after a high-profile scandal involving a top bureaucrat stirred debate and protests. In interviews with Reuters, six prominent women said they hoped Japan was at a turning point in attitudes towards harassment, but urged steps to shrink social, political and economic gender gaps to get at the root causes of the problem. Administrative Vice Finance Minister Junichi Fukuda resigned in April after accusations that he had sexually harassed a female reporter.
Fukuda denied the allegations, and no lawsuits were filed, but the finance ministry later acknowledged the harassment and docked 20 percent of his pay for six months.
Fukuda could not be reached for comment on this article. In the month since, harassment has remained a hot-button issue. Internal Affairs Minister Seiko Noda, who holds the portfolio for women's empowerment in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet, told Reuters she planned to introduce steps soon to address the problem.
That was what freelancer Shiori Ito said happened to her when she went public last year with allegations of rape by well-known journalist Noriyuki Yamaguchi. Yamaguchi has denied the allegations and was not charged. In Japan, prosecutors by custom do not explain decisions to the public. A judicial panel rejected Ito's appeal, saying it had found no grounds to overturn the prosecutors' decision.
Ito, who worked as an intern for Reuters during the time she says the rape occurred, is seeking compensation from Yamaguchi in a civil suit. She added, though, that things might be changing for the better.
Well-known news anchor Yuko Ando echoed that view, noting that the reaction to the allegation against Fukuda gave her hope. Because such memories never disappear," Ando said. Opposition lawmaker Renho said one challenge was to ensure victims in lower-profile cases are heard and protected.
One of the reporters who accused Fukuda, a top bureaucrat, worked for broadcaster TV Asahi. Neither she nor her employer identified her. After the TV Asahi reporter told her story of being verbally harassed to a weekly magazine, TV Asahi protested to the finance ministry, which ultimately apologized. TV Asahi demanded that the ministry continue its investigation and that Fukuda apologize in person. The broadcaster told Reuters it had received no further reply from the ministry.
The reporter could not be reached for comment. In a statement issued on her behalf by TV Asahi last month, the reporter, who was not identified, said that she regretted that Fukuda had not admitted to the allegations and added that she hoped it would become easier for victims to take action. Cabinet minister Noda, who plans to challenge Abe for leadership of his ruling party, called for a law to strengthen protection for sexual harassment victims.
Ultimately, however, resolving the problem requires narrowing social and economic gender inequality, some women said.