Japan government plans to raise the age of consent from 13 to 16

In Japan, a bill is being worked on to substantially amend the penal code related to sex crimes. The age of consent for sexual intercourse could be raised from 13 to 16 years old.

Japan legislative council
Japan’s Legislative Council discussing amendments to the penal code

A government panel proposed on February 3 to raise the age of consent for sexual intercourse in Japan from 13 to 16 years old.

The criminal law subcommittee of the Legislative Council, a panel set up by the ministry of justice to review and advise on civil and criminal laws, sought to change several laws and compiled draft amendments of the penal code related to sex crimes.

In the current penal code, any sexual act with children under the age of 13 is considered a crime. But the council aims to raise the age up to 16, getting better aligned with the legislation in many other developed countries. Having sexual intercourse with a child aged between 13 and 15 and being more than 5 five years older would also be considered a crime.

The council also clarified the context in which a person may be a victim of forced sexual intercourse or indecent assault, a rough equivalent of rape and sexual assault in Japanese legislation. In the current penal code, forced sexual intercourse requires the use of physical assault or threats to charge someone with a sex crime. But there have been cases in Japan in which perpetrators were found not guilty due to difficulties identifying that victims were threatened or physically assaulted.

So the bill for the first time lists eight cases when a perpetrator can be charged with rape or sexual assault, aiming to better consider the physical and mental conditions of the victims.

On top of physical assault and threats, one can be charged with forced sexual intercourse if one took advantage of the influence of drugs or alcohol. Having a psychological reaction due to the abuse (when the victim freezes because in a state of shock for instance), causing mental or physical disability, creating a moment of surprise such as the victim is not able to show disagreement, having sex when the person sleeps or is unconscious, not giving the time for a person to refuse, intimidating about the consequences based on economic status and social relations, would all be considered conditions that can lead to a sex crime.

The statute of limitations is also planned to be extended from 10 to 15 years for forced sexual intercourse and from 7 to 12 years for indecent assault. The statute of limitations is delayed when a victim is under 18 and only starts after the victim is over 18 (up until the last year adulthood in Japan was set at 20 years old).

But for Spring, a Japanese support group for victims of sex abuse, the statute of limitations should be abolished or extended for at least another 15 years.

In Japan, only 4 percent of the victims of rape report to the police, according to cabinet numbers from 2017.

If passed, amendments in the Japanese law for sex crime would be considered some of the most significant changes enacted against sex crimes in the country. In 2017, part of the Japanese sex crime law was revised to punish rape more harshly after not having changed for 110 years. The concept of rape was then replaced by forced sexual intercourse.

However, the new legal provisions were criticized as still being out of step with current society. Forced sexual intercourse is punishable by up to 10 years in prison in Japan.

A draft version of the proposal written last October was modified because the text could be perceived as victims have the obligation to express refusal instead of simply refusing the act.

A new ‘photographing offense’, secretly photographing and filming intimate body parts, underwear or sexual intercourse and sharing them with others, has also been drafted. Until now voyeurism is punishable but not considered part of sex crimes.

Criminalizing the grooming of victims under the age of 16 for acts of obscenity and clarifying that forced sexual intercourse can be committed between spouses have also been added to the bill.

The Legislative Council is expected to finalize the bill in mid-February and send it to the minister of justice Ken Saito. The government hopes to enact the penal code revisions before the end of the current parliament session on June 21.

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