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Reports of sexual violence remain a rarity in disaster zones as both women and the media keep quiet

Bysarah

Apr 23, 2011

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.

7 thoughts on “Reports of sexual violence remain a rarity in disaster zones as both women and the media keep quiet”
  1. Horrible. This shit makes me want to go and teach women in shelters self defense.

    Is mace legal in Japan?

  2. I don’t mean to sound like a troll but something about that article seems a bit sensational to me. Does the writer have any real reason to believe there is any higher incidence of rape or sexual abuse in affected areas, or that they more frequently go unreported, than here in Tokyo city? Is the reporting on rape in any world city on parity with the incidents reported to police officers?

    Is the writer, who resides in the UK, in any real position to know if non-profits and government agencies are or aren’t actively warning women in affected areas about safety? She mentions a few organizations who are involved in educating and protecting women and also cites media articles which attempt to debunk false rumors of crume, but also appears to imply there is a cover-up of sorts. All is all it seems rather speculative and without focus. I’m not really what sure point she’s trying to make.

  3. very interesting, thanks.

    given the cosy relationship between TEPCO, the government, and corporate media, there is also apparently a crackdown on journalism regarding ‘false rumours’ (cf. ‘rational precaution in an environment of imperfect information’) concerning the dangers of radiation.

    so you guys beware you dont publish “illegal information”:

    http://japanfocus.org/-Makiko-Segawa/3516

  4. John (if that is your real name.. dun dun DUN!! Pretty rude to go in with an alias when it’s obvious we know each other. Very classy!),

    Apologies if it seems like I’m trying to make this into some conspiracy theory or point out a media cover-up, because I’m not. It just seems odd that, despite the common knowledge that sexual assault often occurs after natural disasters, despite the fact that there have been reports of such things having happened in the wake of the Hanshin quake and remained largely unacknowledged by law enforcement, AND despite the fact that there are women’s groups active up north trying to teach women how to be safe and to have the courage to stand up for themselves, there is so little report of sexual violence in the news. That’s all.

    I may be based in the UK but can still read the news–pretty much the same as someone who is based in Japan. (Blessed be this digital era!) I’m assuming you’ve been up to the disaster area and believe you know better, which is understandable. Why not write an article about how it really is for women in Tohoku, then?

  5. Gender based and sexual violence tends to raise during/after disasters – natural and/or human made.

    In Disaster management, it is important to take measures to not only looking out for GBV. However since Japan is a “safe” country some organizations have put aside the precautions they would ordinarily follow if they they were doing relief work elsewhere.

    No doubt GBV goes un/under -reported in all countries and japan is no exception. However in time s o crisis when the violence rises it is even more important not to suspend the rights and protections of women and children.

    There are individuals and groups giving out whistles and cards with hotline numbers, but we need to also heighten the level of understanding that this is a problem and something that needs to be dealt with and not hidden.It is important for us not to point the finger but to push and support groups that are taking steps to help women in affected areas.

    We need to keep raising this point in a practical way so that women are supported and not further victimised as i have been seeing.

  6. Gender based and sexual violence tends to raise during/after disasters – natural and/or human made.

    In Disaster management, it is important to take measures to not only looking out for GBV but to be active in preventing it. Since Japan is a “safe” country some organizations have put aside the precautions they would ordinarily follow if they they were doing relief work elsewhere.

    No doubt GBV goes un/under -reported in all countries and Japan is no exception. However in times of crisis (when violence rises) it is even more important not to suspend Women’s rights.

    There are individuals and groups giving out whistles and cards with hotline numbers, but we need to also heighten the level of understanding that this is a problem and something that needs to be dealt with and not simply hidden.It is important for us not to point the finger but to push local officials and support groups that are taking steps to help women in affected areas.

    We need to keep raising this point in a practical way so that women are supported and not further victimised as i have been seeing.

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