Physical, Sexual, and Emotional Abuse by Male Intimates: Experiences of Women in Japan

Article excerpt

This article examines the nature of violence (physical, emotional, and sexual) perpetrated by Japanese men against their female intimates. Data were collected in a nationwide mail questionnaire survey with a convenience sample of 796 women between July and December, 1992. Most respondents were currently married and working full-time; average age was 43.5 years. Over three fourths reported at least one type of violence perpetrated by their male intimate partner. These Japanese women reported a wide range of abuse-from a slap to an assault with a deadly weapon, from verbal ridicules to restriction of social activities, and from incompliance with contraception to forced, violent sex. About two thirds of the most serious physically violent incidents resulted in injury. Sociocultural factors unique to Japanese women's experiences of male violence are identified and discussed along with their implications for prevention and intervention.

Unlike increased public awareness and social and legal responses in the United States, the problem of men's violence against women in the domestic sphere remains virtually unaddressed in Japan. No specific law in Japan defines spousal violence as a crime, nor are civil remedies such as restraining orders available for women battered by their intimate partner. As in the United States prior to the advent of proarrest and mandatory arrest policies, police are reluctant to charge a man who has had an intimate relationship with the woman he assaulted. Likewise, the public prosecutor's office is not likely to indict a man accused of assaulting his intimate partner unless she sustained grave injuries (Colterjohn, 1992). Severe violence is not a minor problem: 18.2% (n = 85) of all female victims of murder or attempted murder in Japan in 1991 were attacked by their husband (Keisatsucho, 1992b).

Paralleling the lack of legal responses, virtually no government funding is allocated to services specifically for battered women. Public women's shelters originally were established under the Act for the Prevention of Prostitution [Baishun Boshi Ho, c. 118, art. 34, 36] to assist women believed to be at risk of engaging in prostitution and, hence, in need of "protection." According to a recent report by one such shelter in Tokyo, about one third of the women who use their services do so to escape an abusive partner (E. Harada, personal communication, January 11,1992; Tokyo Josei Sodan Senta, 1991). Women who have been abused by their husbands and boyfriends also turn to homes for mothers and children that were established under the Child Welfare Law [Jido Fukushi Ho, c. 164, art. 38] (Zenkoku Boshiryo Kyogikai, 1992), Thus, in the absence of specialized services such as battered women's shelters, women seek refuge from their abusive male intimate through social services intended for other purposes.

Divorce is related to a husband's violence in Japan. Those who assist women seeking divorces report numerous cases in which wives have been abused by their husbands (Colterjohn, 1992; Josei no Tameno Rikon Hotline, 1993). The husband's violence has been one of the most common reasons for filing a divorce petition during the past two decades (Matsumura, 1987; Tanabe, 1981). In 1991, over 11,000 wives filed petitions for divorce mediation due to their husband's physical violence; 473 husbands filed mediation petitions due to the wife's physical violence. Husbands' physical violence ranks as the second and their emotional violence the fifth most frequently cited reason for wives to file for family court mediation (Saiko Saibansho Jimusokyoku, 1992).1 These figures suggest that a considerable number of women turn to family court to end abuse in their marriages.

Severe cases of husbands/boyfriends' violence are occasionally reported in the Japanese print and electronic media. The media often attribute the violence to interpersonal factors (e.g., in the heat of passion, a reaction to a divorce/separation initiated by the victim), personal characteristics (e. …