From The Asahi
October 8 2022
KURUME, Fukuoka Pref – Fukuoka Prefecture–A court here ordered the former head of a facility providing support for people with disabilities to pay compensation to a young woman, who herself has an intellectual disability, for sexual abuse she suffered while working there.
The woman in her 20s filed a civil lawsuit after prosecutors determined there was insufficient evidence to file criminal charges against the head of the facility.
The Kurume branch of the Fukuoka District Court on Oct. 7 ordered the man and the company that operated the facility to pay a total of 3.3 million yen ($22,700) in compensation.
In his ruling, Presiding Judge Takeshi Tachikawa said the man sexually abused the woman knowing full well she had limited ability to express consent.
The man acknowledged fondling the woman’s breasts and lower body between October and December 2017 while they were together in a car. The ruling also surmised that similar acts occurred in a hotel room.
The court deplored the man’s behavior, saying he must have realized he had crossed the boundary between what is legal and illegal. It also said the company operating the facility bore responsibility as it had employed the man.
The man argued in court that he was only responding to advances made by the woman, but the ruling rejected his contention, saying the woman clearly had no affection for him nor any desire to be treated that way.
The woman’s mother submitted a complaint to the Kurume Police Station in December 2017 about the sexual abuse her daughter suffered.
Police referred the case to prosecutors as one of suspected forced indecency. But local prosecutors decided in March 2020 not to proceed with an indictment. The woman filed a civil lawsuit that October.
The local government where the woman lives certified that she was a victim of sexual abuse. The Kurume city government ordered the operating company to take steps to prevent a recurrence, which led to the facility’s closure.
WOMAN STILL HAS NIGHTMARES
After the ruling, the woman’s mother said, “I believe my daughter will be very happy to hear about today’s result.”
She explained that her daughter was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder after the incident and continues to visit a medical facility for counseling.
“This will not completely cure her,” the mother said. “But I want to tell her that this victory in court means she was not wrong and that she should go on living with greater confidence.”
The woman now works at another facility making and delivering box lunches. Her parents said she enjoys the work, but still finds it impossible to have any contact with men and works in a separate room when any are present.
The woman is unable to sleep by herself at night and is haunted by bad dreams, even as she lies next to her mother.
Her parents said it is difficult for those with disabilities to speak out and suggested there may be a large number of similar cases that have gone unnoticed.
According to a Fukuoka organization providing support to victims of sexual violence, about 20 percent of the consultations it received in-person were from people with developmental disorders or intellectual disabilities.
Hisako Ura, a counselor at the organization, said there were likely even more people with disabilities who have experienced similar ordeals but have fallen under the radar because they were not diagnosed as having such diabilities.
“Not only is it difficult for sexual damage to come to light, but it is also difficult for those with disabilities to explain their situation to people they do not know,” Ura said. “So the hurdle for judicial procedures after all that is prohibitively high.”
But the latest case suggests that greater consideration is being given to those with disabilities.
The court decided to allow the woman to answer questions through a video linkup from a different room out of consideration for her situation.
While she had difficulty verbalizing her answers, the woman made hand signs expressing a positive response or nodded when she was asked if the man touched her in the hotel room and if she disliked what occurred. She also used a stuffed doll to point out which parts of her body he touched.
The court ruled that the woman was sufficiently able to express the facts, which, coupled with the man’s admission to the Kurume city government about his actions, led to recognition that sexual abuse had indeed taken place.
Kyoko Matsuura, the woman’s lawyer, said, “The detailed manner in which the court accepted the woman’s expressions will open up a new course for future cases.”
But there is still a long way to go before criminal charges can be brought in such cases as critics say the conditions for determining a sexual crime are too harsh.
The government’s Legislative Council, an arm of the Justice Ministry, is now discussing a possible review of laws so perpetrators of sexual crimes can be punished more severely.
“Along with such systemic improvements, we also want to make further efforts to share with police and the judicial system the knowledge and experience cultivated by those working with the disabled so that perpetrators are held responsible for the severity of their acts and sexual violence can be eliminated,” said Hiromi Nakano, who heads the Tokyo-based Shiawase Namida (Tears for happiness), a nonprofit organization working to heighten awareness to eliminate sexual violence.