This article originally appeared on VICE ASIA.
A weekly men's magazine with a pretty sketchy history recently touched a nerve in Japan when it published a list of local universities where women were more likely to be "sexually easy," when they were intoxicated.
The article set off backlash in Japan, where a Change.org petition demanding the publication apologize and delete the story has already gained more than 26,000 signatures. That petition's founder, a Japanese college student named Kazuna Yamamoto, told the Japan Times that she was shocked by how much traction the petition and the hashtag #StandUpJapan were getting online.
“I am really happy because I thought Japanese people didn’t care,” Yamamoto told the newspaper. "I want people to understand that sexualization and objectification is not a joke and not funny.”
There's good reason for her to be surprised. Shuukan Spa!, the magazine in question, has repeatedly gotten away with publishing similarly gross stories that glorified sexual assault and date rape, including articles about which alcohol was best to get a woman to sleep with you and how to identify "easy women," Yamamoto told the Japan Times.
“Getting a girl unconscious or incapable of making decisions so that you can have sex with her is called rape,” she said in a video posted to social media about the article.
The magazine's editorial department responded with a half-hearted, non-apology saying they were sorry about the "sensational language" in their story. The article was an interview with the manager of Lion Project, a matchmaking site, that was allegedly about parties where men pay to meet women.
"We would like to apologize for using sensational language to appeal to readers about how they can become more familiar with women," said Takashi Inukai, a Shuukan Spa! staffer. "And for making a ranking based on [the interviewee's] experience that mentioned real university names—which came out in a way that may have offended readers."
Sexual assault continues to be a subject that's tremendously complicated in Japan. Actual real-life sexual assault is considered a taboo subject to discuss while fictional instances of rape in both porn and mainstream media are often fetishized as a wholly sexual—not a violent—act. The police argue that instances of sexual assault are very low in Japan, about 1 in 15 women report being assaulted at some point in their lives, according to government statistics.
But these figures hide a startlingly pervasive problem. The reported instances of sexual assault represent only about 5 percent of what's actually happening in the country according to a government survey that found that 95 percent of the victims of rape and sexual assault decided not to report the attack to the police.
Part of the reason is fear of embarrassment by a police investigation, but a larger issue is the way the law views rape and sexual assault in Japan. Until recently, rape was only legally considered rape if a man violently inserted his penis into a woman's vagina. That law changed to include anal and oral rape as well in 2017, but plenty of other problematic language remained.
In the eyes of the law, rape needs to include "violence and intimidation" by an assailant. Instances where a man or woman was drugged, drunk, or otherwise intoxicated rarely meet the legal standards of rape in Japan—a fact that makes already gross articles like those published by Shuukan Spa! even worse.
In instances when the police do investigate an allegation of rape, the system itself can pile further trauma on a victim. Police regularly ask rape victims to re-enact parts of their assault with a life-sized dummy in front of the investigators, according to a report by Al Jazeera English.
And during one of the most-high profile rape cases in recent history, when a prominent TV news journalist allegedly forced himself on an intoxicated and partially conscious woman, the investigating officers reportedly doubted the victim's story because "she was not crying," according to the New York Times.
The decision by Shiori Ito, the victim in that case, to go public with her story—through a series of interviews, a book called Black Box, and a documentary released last year—helped open the door for a wider conversation about sexual assault and harassment in Japan. It was a significant step in a country where the #MeToo movement has struggled to take off. Since then, models, television journalists, and other women have come forward with allegations of their own.
Still, forward momentum to address this problem has been slow.
"Lack of legal protection, combined with cultural pressure to accept and bear one's hardship make young women vulnerable," Kazuko Ito, an attorney who speaks often on the #MeToo movement, told the BBC. "Japanese people are taught not to say 'No.'"
"What they need is solidarity across industries and societies. That will encourage more people to speak up."
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