Japan looks set to criminalize sex with teens under age 16 in an overhaul of its sex crime laws.
A panel of the Japanese justice ministry on Friday proposed raising the country’s age of consent from 13—the lowest among developed nations—to 16. The age of consent is 14 in Germany, 15 in France, and 16 in the United Kingdom and most states in the U.S.
The proposal, which could be approved by parliament as early as this summer, is one of several proposed changes to the country’s criminal code on sexual offenses after the acquittal of several sexual abusers in 2019 stirred nationwide protests.
In addition to raising the age of consent—which has remained unchanged since it was set in 1907—the panel has also proposed criminalizing grooming of minors. It also plans to expand the definition of rape to include acts committed using drugging and intoxication.
Campaigners and survivors of sexual abuse have welcomed the proposals.
“I was 15 when a classmate of mine sexually assaulted me at a party. When I told my best friend about it immediately afterward, she told me it wasn’t a big deal because I was drinking,” Hana, a 20-year-old college student, told VICE World News.
Current law requires victims to not only prove they didn’t consent, but also demonstrate that there was assault or intimidation that made it impossible to resist.
“In that moment, I was so scared of what he could do so I just waited for it to end,” Hana said, declining to use her last name because she has not told her family about her assault. “So I’m glad Japan’s considering changing these laws because there will be fewer people like me, who are confused about what happened to them.”
Spring, an organization that supports sexual assault survivors, has been advocating for such revisions to Japan’s Penal Code. But it noted that it needed to clearly define all nonconsensual sexual intercourse as rape.
The process to review sex crime legislation was sparked by several high-profile acquittals in 2019, including of a father accused of repeatedly raping his 19-year-old biological daughter even though the court determined it was against her will. The prosecution was unable to prove that there was “assault or intimidation” that made it impossible for her to resist her father’s advances.
The ruling was overturned a year later after prosecutors appealed. The man was sentenced to 10 years in prison.
At present, local ordinances do ban “lewd” acts—which includes sex—with those under 18. But the penalty for such crimes are much lighter than rape charges, which carries a minimum sentence of five years.
In comparison, committing a “lewd” act results in a maximum sentence of two years in prison or a fine of no more than one million yen ($7,450). In some prefectures, like Fukushima and Osaka, penalties for “lewd” acts include imprisonment of up to six months or a fine of up to 500,000 yen ($3,724).