FNN news is reporting on the arrest of one Kyo Matsunaga, a 28-year-old man who is accused of raping a woman in her Iwate home during a blackout following a major aftershock. The case has caught media attention because Matsunaga’s DNA matches DNA left at the scenes of two other rapes in Tokyo’s Musashino area back in 2005. Police plan to transfer the suspect back to Tokyo and press additional charges.
This report is a rarity. It’s a known fact that rape and other forms of sexual violence are common in the wake of natural disasters. Accounts of rape and violence after the 1995 Great Hanshin Earthquake still trickle in today, despite the fact that they remained largely uncovered by the media at the time.
Just days after the March 11, the foreign media showered endless praise upon the ‘noble’ Japanese for their orderliness and honesty in numerous articles about how had been so little looting. (Check out this interesting Slate article hypothesising why) The next week some were redacting their astonishment as reports of theft and more widespread crime began to emerge. There are still very few reports of sexual violence, with articles instead focusing on police warnings against false rumours of rapes in evacuation centers (as noted by Debito). This April 1 Nikkei article even goes as far to say that, along with there having been no rapes reported in the disaster zone, rates of reported rape in Hyogo Prefecture–center of the Hanshin Quake–were the same in 1995 as they had been in 1994.
A few organizations have been working to prevent any further violence, documented or not, from occurring. Perhaps the newest of these, The Post-Earthquake Support For Women and Children Project (震災後の女性・子ども応援プロジェクト – English here) was started through the cooperation of several women and children’s rights groups, including Polaris Project. The group has been working to distribute cards advising women and children to put their safety first and not hesitate to report sexual violence.
One wonders how many rape- and violence-less disasters it’ll take before both the media and authorities realize the problem is real and needs to be given attention. Word of some evacuation centers setting up “Women Only” areas, much like a Tokyo train, are a start, but likely a small comfort for those who are forced to walk alone down streets with no electricity, or return to homes that lie empty because family members have been stolen by the tsunami.