Activists protest over lawmaker’s skepticism about sex crime victim claims

TOKYO: A group of activists against sexual violence on Tuesday brought a petition with more than 136,000 signatures to the headquarters of Japan’s ruling party to protest comments by a lawmaker claiming women sometimes falsely claim to be victims of sex crimes.

But the Liberal Democratic Party refused to accept the petition submitted by organizers of the Flower Demo movement against sex crimes in protest at the comments by Mio Sugita, a female member of the LDP in the House of Representatives.

Sugita told a party meeting late last month on a government assistance program for sexual violence survivors that “women are able to tell lies as much as they want.”

After bringing the petition, the group held a rally in front of the LDP headquarters, claiming the party also has a responsibility in the matter for having backed Sugita as a candidate in the last election.

Holding flowers and banners, the about 10 participants in the rally claimed sexual violence victims were “hurt” by Sugita’s suggestion that women lie about such claims. Minori Kitahara, one of the Flower Demo organizers, said she hopes the lawmaker will “feel the weight of (victims’) voices” expressed by the signatures.

“Her statement has resulted in the ‘second rape’ of victims of sexual violence and constitutes sexual discrimination. It is also considered hate speech that could hamper efforts to eliminate sexual violence,” the Flower Demo organizers said in a protest statement.

“It is not the case that victims are unable to speak out, but our society has been unwilling to listen to them,” they said.

The LDP issued Sugita a verbal warning with no penalties five days after the Sept. 25 party meeting at which she questioned the veracity of statements by sexual violence survivors.

Having initially denied making the comment in question, Sugita wrote an ostensible apology on her blog on Oct 1.

“I am sorry for offending people by giving an impression that only women lie when lying is not restricted to one gender,” she wrote, drawing further attacks from critics who said her apology was hollow.

Meanwhile, LDP Secretary General Toshihiro Nikai told a press conference Tuesday, “We will urge (Sugita) to respond accordingly because as many as 130,000 signatures have been collected” to protest at her remarks.

Sugita, who has been elected to the lower house twice under the proportional representation system, has declined to step down as a lawmaker.

The Flower Demo movement was launched in April 2019 by feminist activists such as Kitahara to protest against a series of acquittals of defendants in high-profile sex crime cases and seek changes to the law on sexual violence.

In 2017, Japanese parliament revised the country’s archaic law on sexual violence for the first time in more than a century, including imposing heavier punishment on offenders, broadening the definition of sexual assaults as well as recognizing male victims.

The government said at the time that it would “consider” further revisions in 2020, which are yet to materialize.

A 2017 Cabinet Office survey showed one in every 20 people in Japan was coerced into engaging in sexual intercourse, with the rate at 7.8 percent for women and 1.5 percent for men. A total of 56.1 percent of victims told no one about it.

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