In Japan, Rape Is Often Viewed as `Extension of Sex' Outrage over Okinawa Case Unusual, Some Say

Article excerpt

ALL OVER JAPAN, the media flashed reports of the guilty verdicts in the country's highly publicized rape case, the sexual assault of a 12-year-old girl by three U.S. servicemen on Okinawa.

But almost nowhere in the coverage were the words "rape" and "sexual assault" used to describe what is known in Japan as "the American soldiers' assault incident" or "the elementary school female student assault incident."

After months of public protest, and apologies from President Bill Clinton, Ambassador Walter F. Mondale and Defense Secretary William Perry, most Japanese by now understand that what happened was a rape. But for weeks after the crime, many did not.

Rape in Japan is rarely examined as a serious issue by the police, the news media or much of the public, according to women's advocates, lawyers and scholars. The prison sentences given the U.S. servicemen Thursday - seven years for two defendants, 6 1/2 for the third - were relatively severe. But this, the Japanese observers say, had more to do with the youth of the victim and the identity of her attackers than with outrage over rape.

"People in Japan generally think rape is not a crime of violence but an extension of sex," said Suzuyo Takazato, a member of the city assembly in Naha, Okinawa, near where the schoolgirl was abducted, beaten and raped. "They think rape victims have some responsibility for what happens to them. In this case, because of the age of the victim, that sort of thinking was not allowed."

Evidence of generally lax attitudes toward sexual crime and sexual violence in Japan is widespread and varied.

`Rape Man' Movies

Among the most popular Japanese-language films in the video stores are "Rape Man" movies, which feature graphic depictions of rape and murder of women and which often end with the rapist and one of his victims falling in love. These films are in the general film sections, not the separate rooms reserved for pornography.

Rape as a form of sex also is a common subject for adult comic books, read openly on crowded trains and subways.

Just south of Tokyo in Kanagawa, a 28-year-old office worker is now on trial in a series of rapes of junior high and high school girls that may number nearly 100. The case has been ignored by the Tokyo news media and is given only minimal coverage in the local press.

Mainstream opinion is that Japan remains a realm of comparative safety from rape and other crimes. It has the lowest number of reported cases of rape and the highest percentage of arrests in reported cases, of any developed country. …