|Title:||Cultural aspects of violence against women in Japan.|
|Abstract:||Examines the cultural aspects of violence against women in Japan. Founding of a psychological support program for victims of violence in Tokyo; Realization that post-traumatic symptoms as a result of violence are common to all cultures; Problems of panic attacks and dissociation frequently seen in victims of violence in Japan; Events in Japan leading to an awareness of the concept of victim trauma; Frequency of molestation in crowded trains; Low reporting rate for rape in Japan.|
|Full Text Word Count:||895|
|Database:||Academic Search Premier|
Lancet 2000; 355: 1810
In 1993, a group of colleagues and I started a psychological support programme for victims of violence in Tokyo. At first, the response was slow and we were contacted by only two or three people a month. Subsequently, there was a striking increase in our workload, with more than 1000 people contacting us for help between July and December in 1997. More than 80% of these contacts were made by women. Our clinical experience during the past 8 years has convinced us that post-traumatic symptoms as a result of violence are common to all cultures. For example, dissociation and panic attacks, which have been extensively reported in western countries, are also frequently seen in victims of violence in Japan.
Japan is often described as lagging 20 years behind western countries in terms of the support provided for violence victims. About 5 years ago, only a small number of Japanese psychiatrists were familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. Since then, appreciation of the psychology of victims of violence and their recovery has increased. Notably, the need for support for victims of trauma in Japan was dramatically highlighted in 1995 first by the great Hanshin earthquake and then by the sarin gas attack on the Tokyo subway system by the AUM Shinrikyo religious cult.
Since these events, the general public has become more aware of the concept of "victim trauma". Perhaps as a result, government and society have also started to pay more attention to the problem of violence against women. Nevertheless, this increased awareness has yet to be incorporated into Japan's health-care system. Although traumatic responses are common to all countries, there are some factors in Japanese culture that make it difficult for female victims to seek support. In the case of sexual assault, the seriousness of the crime tends to be downplayed by men and women alike. Both tend to consider that the damage done is "not serious", and that an act of sexual violence is "not a crime".
Molestation in crowded trains is probably the most common type of sexual victimisation in Japan. A survey done by my group in Tokyo showed that 60-70% of women had experienced this form of assault at least once. Although many women were psychologically distressed as a result, only 5% reported the experience to the police. The reporting rate is also low for rape. In women, the prevalence of "sexual intercourse against her will" has consistently been several percents for the past 5 or 6 years.[1-3] Our latest random sampling survey in Tokyo in 1998 showed that 8.5% of 459 women aged 20-59 had been raped at least once. By contrast, in the 1997 White Paper on Crime published by the Research and Training Institute of the Ministry of Justice of Japan, the number of reported rapes and attempted rapes was only 1657(1.3/100 000). The true prevalence of rape is not markedly lower than that of other countries, but the number of cases reported in official statistics is extremely low. For example, in the USA it is estimated that 14.8% of women are raped during their lifetime, and 96 252 (39.3/100 000) offences were reported to law-enforcement agencies in 1996. The percent of victimisation in the USA is thus only less than twice that in Japan, but the number of reported cases in the USA amounts to 30 times those in Japan. In 1999, the Office for Gender Equality of the Prime Minister's Office did a nationwide survey of 3405 people, which showed that 6.8% of the 1773 women had experienced "physically forcible sexual relations".
In clinical practice, we often encounter rape victims with severe post-traumatic stress disorder who have neither reported the assault to the police nor sought treatment in the mainstream health-care system. But, another important factor is that victims are generally portrayed as being non-assertive, passive, and patient. In particular, Japanese society is only mildly tolerant of female victims who react with anger and aggression towards their assailants or who assert and articulate their rights. The number of legal cases related to sexual assault is rapidly increasing but it remains a small number compared with the true extent of crimes committed. By contrast, attributes such as self-blame, tolerance, and suppression of feelings are praised. It follows that, if recovery from trauma is defined as the re-acquisition of self-esteem and self-control, a societal attitude that runs contrary to this process will hinder victims' recovery. Thus, although improvement in the clinical management of victims' physical injuries is necessary, a more urgent and important task in Japan is teaching specialists in the support services about the psychological needs of victims.
1 Konishi T. Research on sexual victimisation among Japanese college students. JASS Proc 1997; 8: 28-47.
2 Sasagawa M, Konishi T, Andoh K, et al. Sexual assault victims in childhood in Japan. Acta Crim Japon 1998; 64: 202-12.
3 Ishikawa Y. The reality of sexual victimisation,. Shimane: Simane University Press, 1995.
4 Bureau of Justice Statistics. Criminal victimization: changes 1997-98 with trends 1993-98. Washington, DC: US Department of Justice, 1998.
5 Office for Gender Equality. Report of violence between men and women Tokyo: Prime Minister's Office, 2000.
By Takako Konishi, MD, Faculty of Human Studies, Musashino Women''s University, 1-1-20 Sinmachi, Hoya-shi, Tokyo 202-8585, Japan
Adapted by MD