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Japan air force member is latest to sue state over sexual harassment in military

Skyline of Naha cityscape in Okinawa
via Getty Images

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    A member of the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force filed a lawsuit against the government Monday for allegedly failing to bring disciplinary action against a male colleague’s verbal sexual harassment despite repeated complaints and lawsuits over the years.

    According to the plaintiff’s lawyers, the verbal sexual abuse began in 2010 after the plaintiff was assigned to the Naha air base in Okinawa. During this time, a male colleague allegedly made frequent comments about her body and publicly inquired about her sex life.

    Other female air force members had also experienced similar verbal sexual harassment from the same colleague, but they did not make any formal complaints in fear of retaliation, according to the plaintiff’s lawyers.

    The lawyers also added that the plaintiff suffered significant setbacks in her career following her complaints to supervisors and a Self-Defense Force sexual harassment consultation department. 

    Although the plaintiff’s complaints led to the implementation of awareness training, she claims that the government did not hold the colleague responsible for his actions and that she instead suffered from retaliation for years after speaking out — which eventually manifested into stress and insomnia.

    In 2016, the plaintiff filed a lawsuit against the male colleague at Naha District Court. 

    The court acknowledged that sexual harassment had taken place, but dismissed the case after a year, saying the case falls under the government’s responsibility and that an individual public servant could not be held responsible. This decision was later maintained by a higher court.

    Subsequent efforts to file a criminal complaint with the military police in 2019 were also unsuccessful, the plaintiff’s lawyers said.

    The plaintiff is now seeking roughly 11.7 million yen (approximately $86,000) in damages from the government. 

    Daisuke Tabuchi, one of the plaintiff’s lawyers, said that the government’s failure to take proper measures to prevent sexual harassment and its lack of effort to counter the criticism the plaintiff faced for speaking out has caused her to suffer for more than 10 years.

    “The Self Defense Force has faced staff shortages and is desperately recruiting members, and yet problems like these are left unchecked,” said Yukiko Takei, another one of the plaintiff’s lawyers. “We must say governance at the Japanese military is not properly functioning.”

    The Defense Ministry of Japan declined to comment on the lawsuit.

    Victims of sexual harassment, abuse and rape in Japan continue to face challenges when speaking out against their perpetrators and often become targets of criticism in their workplace and online when taking their stories public.

    Last month, a former member of Japan’s Self-Defense forces, Rina Gonoi, filed a lawsuit against five men and the government over sexual abuse allegations.

    Gonoi joined the forces in 2020 and experienced repeated sexual assault and harassment while training at Camp Koriyama. 

    Gonoi shared her story on YouTube and started a petition that gained more than 130,000 signatures requesting an internal investigation after both superiors within the Defense Ministry and a local prosecutor’s office dismissed her case.

    The public attention prompted the chief of staff of the army Gen. Yoshishide Yoshida to issue a public apology to Gonoi. Additionally, the perpetrators apologized to Gonoi while kneeling for forgiveness in a private meeting arranged by the Defense Ministry. In December of last year, the ministry then dishonorably discharged five men and disciplined four others.

    Gonoi says she still wants the five assailants and the government to be held accountable in court. She is seeking 5.5 million yen (approximately $40,400) in damages from the five men and 2 million yen (approximately $14,700) from the government for failure to take her allegations seriously in the lawsuit filed in January.


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