Deseret News (Salt Lake City), Jun 29, 2003 by Howard W. French New York Times News Service
HAYATO, Japan -- Two years ago, a 16-year-old high school girl who lived near here was hospitalized with a high fever. After doctors found that she had an acute case of genital herpes, she told her parents that her teacher had had sex with her.
When approached by the parents, the teacher denied the claim, warning them that their daughter would be expelled if they reported him.
Experts say molestation and statutory rape are commonplace in schools across Japan and that victims rarely come forward. To do so would violate a host of powerful social conventions, said Akiko Kamei, a retired teacher who is the country's only nationally known expert in classroom sexual abuse.
"In Japan there is a rape myth, which says that the victim of a rape is always to blame," Kamei said. "Moreover, women are told that if you suffer molestation or groping, you have to be ashamed. If you talk about it to anyone else, you are going to be tainted for the rest of your life."
Beyond that, even when they are identified and caught, molesters rarely receive more than a slap on the wrist.
Speaking at a public symposium, a member of Parliament, Seiichi Ota, recently made light of reports of gang rapes at a Tokyo university. "Boys who commit group rape are in good shape," Ota said. "I think they are rather normal. Whoops, I shouldn't have said that." (The legislator's comments were carried in many Japanese newspapers.)
Recently, however, the public tolerance for rape has begun to change as a handful of victims or their families have pressed charges against classroom molesters. The mother of the girl infected with herpes, for example, went to the police, which led not only to the dismissal of the 49-year-old teacher but to a one-year prison sentence for him as well.
In an interview about the incident, the mother requested anonymity, as do most people involved in such cases. She said that if her identity were revealed, she would be ostracized and could even lose her job.
As if to underline the family's concern, the daughter has left Japan, fleeing the taunts of fellow students and the cold shoulder of teachers at her former school.
"Whose interests would it serve for us to go public?" said the mother, who asked not only that her name not be used but that the name of her town, which is near Hayato, in western Japan, not be revealed. "We would have liked to receive solidarity from other people, but that is not how it works in Japan. I grew up in this community, and although a foreigner might not understand, it is a fact that the victim is always cast in a negative light."
The number of reported molestations in Japan schools rose from 27 in 1992 to 122 in 2001, the most recent year for which data are available.
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