Japan's 100-Year-Old Outdated Rape Law Might Finally Be About to Change

On Thursday, Japan began the process of bringing its archaic rape law in line with 21st century attitudes. Parliament’s lower house approved a bill that would widen the definition of rape, lengthen prison sentences for perpetrators, and allow attackers to be prosecuted, even if victims don’t press charges.

Under the current law, which was passed in 1907, rape is limited to vaginal penetration by a penis. The revision would include “forced sexual intercourse,” recognizing that men can also be victims of rape. Forced sexual intercourse also includes anal and oral sex. In addition, the proposed minimum sentence would rise from three years to five.

According to data from 2014, only 5 percent of women who have been sexually assaulted in Japan report their attack and victims of sexual crimes are often shamed into silence.

The new law aims to change this.

"These revisions are necessary, although they are only partial and come too late.  But the ruling parties have taken the revisions hostage in order to pass the anti-conspiracy act," Keiko Ota, a lawyer campaigning for a change in the rape law told Reuters.

Rape prosecutions are rare in Japan. Even if the suspect is found guilty, many avoid prison by paying damages and apologizing.

In 2016, 22-year old actor Yuta Takahata was arrested on charges of raping a 49-year-old hotel worker. Police claimed that he pinned the woman down in his room, and Takahata admitted he raped the woman. However, he agreed a settlement with the hotel-worker, and the case was dropped.

Currently, in Japan, rape is categorized as shinkokuza i, or an offence that cannot be prosecuted without a complaint by the victim. If the victim is happy to settle out of court, then the police, under the current law, cannot prosecute.

In 2014, the Tokyo High Court acquitted a 25-year-old man of attacking a 15-year-old girl, a high-profile case that deterred further women from seeking justice, according to women’s rights activists.

Prosecutors decided the girl was at fault as she didn’t fight hard enough, judging from the way their bodies were positioned during the attack, she could have “run away if only she had kicked her legs in the air.”

The Diet, or Japanese parliament, closes on June 18. “We don’t have much time left, but I do hope the Upper House will find the time to deliberate them in a thorough manner,” said Justice Minister Katsutoshi Kaneda.