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Verdict due in Japan army sexual assault case

A Japanese court is due to give a verdict on Tuesday in the trial of three ex-soldiers accused of sexually assaulting a female colleague while others watched and laughed. In a country where the #MeToo movement failed to gain much ground, Rina Gonoi, 24, rose to prominence when she took to YouTube last year to share her account after an internal military probe was dropped. The public attention from the viral video and a petition signed by more than 100,000 people forced the defence ministry to acknowledge the assault and apologise. This March, prosecutors reversed an earlier decision and charged the three men, who have been dismissed from the military and face two years in prison if convicted. Gonoi told AFP in an interview in February that her decision to go public was “desperate rather than brave”. She said that after fulfilling a childhood dream and enlisting in 2020, she experienced daily harassment. “When walking down the hallway, someone slaps you on your hip, or holds you from behind,” she told AFP. “I was kissed on the cheek, and my breasts were grabbed.” Then, during a drill in 2021, she says three colleagues pressed her to the ground, forced apart her legs and each repeatedly pressed their crotches against her. – ‘Stigma and shame’ – Women rarely hold positions in the upper echelons of Japanese politics, business, government and military. The country’s gender pay gap is the worst among advanced economies. Prominent cases such as Gonoi’s — and a handful of others like that of journalist Shiori Ito, who accused a prominent TV reporter of rape — are rare. “In Japan, suffering sexual violence brings stigma and shame, often leaving survivors reluctant to come forward,” Teppei Kasai from Human Rights Watch told AFP. A 2021 government survey showed that about six percent of assault victims, men and women, went to the police, while nearly half of women respondents said they could not because of “embarrassment”, Kasai said. – Stricter laws – Inspired by Gonoi, however, more than 1,400 women and men have submitted their allegations of sexual harassment and bullying in the military following a special inspection by the defence ministry. This June, Japan passed legislation redefining rape, including removing the requirement that victims prove they had sought to resist their attacker. Britain’s BBC in November included Gonoi on a list of 100 “inspiring and influential women” for 2023. Time magazine also included her in its “100 Next” list of people to watch. But Gonoi, who is suing her alleged attackers and the government in a parallel civil case, received a torrent of vitriol online after coming forward. “I was prepared for defamation, but it’s tough,” she told AFP, saying at one point it got so bad she did not leave her home for five days. “There’s something wrong with Japan — people attack victims instead of perpetrators.”

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