Although the compensation was about one-third of what Shiori Ito had sought, the verdict Wednesday marked a victory for women’s rights in Japan and for the country’s nascent #MeToo movement.
Outside the court, Ito thanked her many supporters as she pursued the case in the face of a significant backlash. She said she hoped the ruling would help other cases see the light of day.
“I am truly glad I was able to deliver everyone a good result,” she said. “Even with this much support, a victim can become nervous, worried. Even today, there are so many people who are fighting alone. I hope it will become easier for them to feel less worried going forward.”
In her case, Ito said she felt dizzy and lost consciousness during an evening in 2015 spent drinking and eating with a well-known male journalist, Noriyuki Yamaguchi, after he offered to help her find a job. She said she awoke hours later to find him raping her and believes he drugged her.
Tokyo police initially tried to discourage her from pressing charges and could not provide a female police officer able to record her testimony.
Evidence amassed to support the charges. A taxi driver testified that he had heard Ito ask to get out at a train station, then saw her lose consciousness. Security footage showed Ito being taken, apparently unconscious, through the lobby of a hotel where Yamaguchi was staying.
Police eventually handed the case to prosecutors, and an arrest warrant was issued for Yamaguchi — but then suddenly dropped on the instructions of a senior police officer.
Yamaguchi was Washington bureau chief of the Tokyo Broadcasting System at the time and had written books about Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Opposition lawmakers held hearings in 2017 and asked whether the case was dropped due to Yamaguchi’s ties to Abe, but officials denied this, arguing there was insufficient evidence to charge him.
Yamaguchi argued that he took Ito to his hotel room because she was too drunk to get home safely. He denied raping her, saying she had aggressively asked for sex.
In 2017, Ito broke with convention by going public with her claims at a news conference, but Japan’s male-dominated and pro-establishment media was reluctant to champion her cause, citing the lack of a criminal indictment. Instead, she faced threats and insults over social media, by email and telephone, as well as articles attacking her in a conservative magazine.
She braved the backlash and took Yamaguchi to court in a civil case. She wrote a book entitled “Black Box” about her experiences and the difficulties she faced getting information on her own case, let alone other similar cases.
When she went public, Ito estimated that only around 5 percent of rapes were reported in Japan, because of stigma in Japanese society, police indifference and reluctance to open a case, the difficulty of obtaining a guilty verdict and the risk of a backlash against the victim.
But her testimony has helped galvanize Japan’s #MeToo movement. The number of rape cases in which the Justice Ministry began proceedings rose 35 percent in 2018 to 410, although the figure remains very low by international standards considering Japan’s population, about 127 million people.
More women are also speaking out about sexual harassment and protesting the way cases are handled after acquittals and minimal sentences for those found guilty. Monthly “Flower Demonstrations” began in Tokyo in April and have spread to 25 other Japanese cities.
“Looking at him at the court, I was trying to imagine what was going on in his mind,” Ito said outside the court Wednesday. “I hope he will speak sincerely from now on.”
Yamaguchi had sought about $1.2 million in compensation from Ito in a countersuit, and he demanded that she take out full-page advertisements in Japan’s newspapers apologizing for damaging his reputation. His lawyer accused her of delusion and paranoia.
On Wednesday, Yamaguchi said he planned to appeal the verdict and maintained he had done nothing illegal.
“We presented a multitude of objective evidence that supports my arguments,” he said. “I am very dissatisfied with the court, which allowed Ito’s argument one-sidedly to be the truth.”
Meanwhile, Ito is campaigning for changes to Japan’s rape law, which fails to mention the concept of consent and sets the legal age for sex at 13. At a news conference later Wednesday, Ito said the penal code, which is due to be revised next year, should be changed to lower the barriers for rape victims to file a case.
But she said more far-reaching changes are essential, including addressing the massive shortage of female police officers who can deal with rape cases, opening up the “black box” of Japan’s prosecution system, and breaking open the male-dominated political, legal and media establishment.
Still, Ito said she was glad the civil case had shed light on what happened to her and allowed witnesses to testify in a courtroom. She said the overall situation has begun to change for the better in Japan, however slowly.