Civil movement

The symbol of the Japanese #MeToo movement has again been awarded damages in a rape case

The Tokyo High Court on Tuesday ordered a former senior TV reporter to pay 3.3 million yen ($28,990) in damages to journalist Shiori Ito in a high-profile rape case that helped spark the Japanese #MeToo movement.

Upholding a lower court ruling in 2019, the High Court ruled in Ito’s favor, saying Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a 55-year-old former Washington bureau chief of Tokyo Broadcasting System Television Inc., had had sex with her without her consent in 2015.

Ito, 32, had sought 11 million yen in damages, saying she was raped in a hotel while unconscious following a dinner in Tokyo with Yamaguchi, who had promised to help find a job. The former television journalist had claimed that the act was consensual.

Presiding Judge Takao Nakayama said they only met through work and “there was no intimate interaction between the two that could lead to sexual intercourse”.

“As a result, the court must find that (Yamaguchi) commenced intercourse while Ito was unconscious,” he said.

Yamaguchi countersued, seeking damages of 130 million yen on the grounds that there is no truth to his allegations, including that he slipped her a drug to render her unconscious. The high court ruled in her favor on the drug allegation, ordering Ito to pay her ¥550,000.

At trial, Yamaguchi said he had been “socially murdered” and “suffered from irreparable hardship” caused by a “non-existent” sexual assault, while Ito said she had “suffered new pain” as she was called a “false accuser and victim of sex crimes” by Yamaguchi.

In December 2019, the Tokyo District Court ordered Yamaguchi to pay 3.3 million yen in damages to Ito, acknowledging that he had had sex without her consent and that the plaintiff was “in a state of ‘drunk and unconscious’. Yamaguchi appealed the decision in January 2020.

“The court’s decision, which recognized that there was no consent, means a lot,” Ito told a press conference.

At a separate press conference, Yamaguchi said he was unhappy with the decision “other than the damages awarded to him” and was considering appealing to the highest court.

The civil trial rulings contrasted sharply with the criminal trial, in which prosecutors decided not to charge Yamaguchi citing insufficient evidence after Ito filed a police complaint.

Ito said she thought Yamaguchi’s close ties to then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, about whom he wrote a bestseller, might have discouraged prosecutors from pursuing the case.

After coming out with her real name and publishing a book in 2017 about her experience, Ito has become a symbol of the #MeToo movement in Japan. His decision drew a lot of sympathy as well as criticism in a country where few victims come forward.

Despite widespread support for him, abusive and derogatory remarks are still rampant on the internet, with some posts accusing him of trying to “fall asleep”. Ito denies these allegations and has filed lawsuits against some of the people who posted such comments.

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