TOKYO– Japan’s defense minister said on Tuesday he had ordered a special ministry-wide investigation into growing reports of sexual assault after allegations of harassment by a former soldier.
Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada’s order came after a former soldier, Rina Gonoi, came forward in late August to demand a new investigation into an alleged assault on her by former male colleagues last year. She also said she received information from 146 service members who said they were harassed while on duty.
Hamada said the number of reported cases of harassment had risen sharply in recent years despite the ministry’s efforts to prevent them, and it was time for a thorough examination of the problem.
“Harassment is a violation of fundamental human rights. It also undermines the morale of the troops and absolutely should not happen,” Hamada said.
Hamada said the number of complaints of sexual harassment, power and other forms of harassment rose from 256 in 2016 to 2,311 last year.
In a country where gender inequality remains high, sexual harassment is often ignored and the #MeToo movement is slow to take hold. But Japanese women have started to speak out, including some recently in the film industry.
Last week, Gonoi submitted a petition to the Ministry of Defense signed by more than 100,000 people asking for his case to be reinvestigated by a third party.
She said three senior male colleagues in a dormitory at a training ground in August 2021 pressed their lower bodies against her, forcing her to spread her legs, as more than 10 other male colleagues watched and laughed, but none tried to stop them. . She said in a statement that she filed a complaint with the ministry, but the investigation was not properly conducted and local prosecutors dropped the case in May. A month later, she left the military and disclosed her allegations on social media.
Gonoi said she felt her case had been called off and she needed to speak up because there could be more victims if she didn’t.
The ministry has started a new investigation into the case.
On Tuesday, Hamada said he sent prosecutors from the Office of the Inspector General for Legal Compliance to the regional division of the military overseeing the unit where Gonoi served.
The ministry will also set up a group of outside experts to review anti-harassment measures and investigate the causes of the recent increase in reported cases, Hamada said.
Gonoi said she hopes the department will release the findings of her case and take strong disciplinary action against the alleged abusers.