Japanese rape victim sues congregation over ‘cover-up’

Union of Catholic Asian News (UCA News) [Hong Kong]

January 26, 2024

By UCA News reporter

Woman taking action against Society of Divine Word gives up right to anonymity before court hearing in Tokyo

A Japanese Catholic allegedly raped by a priest from the Society of Divine Word (SVD) congregation and who is suing the order for covering it up has revealed her name publicly during a court hearing, says a report.

Tokie Tanaka, 63, a nurse residing in Tokyo, said during a press conference on Jan. 23 that she decided to reveal her identity after she was inspired by another victim, the Asahi Shimbun reported on Jan. 24.

Tanaka was referring to a former Ground Self-Defense Force member, Rina Gonoi, 24, who publicly reported sexual abuse at the hands of her colleagues while using her real name.

“I haven’t done anything wrong. Why do I need to hide?” Tanaka said adding that the move from Gonoi to go public with her name was “courageous.”

“Speaking out under my name proves my existence — that despite having been hurt by sexual abuse, I can stand up and live,” Tanaka added.

The move from Tanaka came right before the Tokyo District Court’s first hearing on the case that she filed against the religious order for allegedly helping the abuser and not taking appropriate actions despite her complaints.

Tanaka said she faced sexual abuse as a child. However, in 2012, when she told the priest about her traumatic experience to find spiritual solace, he started sexually abusing her which continued for five years, she alleged.

The congregation’s investigation into the alleged abuse was inadequate and the priest did not apologize for his actions, Tanaka said.

The priest repeatedly forced her into sexual intercourse and filmed her under the pretext of “spiritual guidance” over four and a half years, Tanaka alleged.

She claimed that she reported the incidents to the head of the Japan Province of the Divine Word congregation.

Following the complaint, the congregation suspended the priest in 2019, and imposed a three-year “out-of-mission life” which was essentially time away from communal living for the priest, the Asahi Shimbun reported.

The congregation has also allegedly given him 1 million yen (US$6,777) and allowed him to return to his home country.

Father Keiji Arata, secretary-general of the congregation said that the priest had denied the accusations, and that the congregation would “proceed with the lawsuit” in consultation with their legal representative.

In 2023, Japan revised its sexual assault laws which date back to 1907.

Japan’s parliament passed an amendment redefining rape as non-consensual sexual intercourse and raising the age of consent from 13 to 16, US-based National Public Radio (NPR) reported.

The change in legislation also defines rape to recognize non-consensual sexual acts such as assaults under the influence of alcohol, drugs, fear, or intimidation.

The changes were enacted after four years of protests known as the Flower Demo, which decried sexual violence and acquittals in rape cases.

One in 14 women have been raped or sexually assaulted in Japan and less than half of survivors reported the crime, according to a Gender Equality Bureau survey released in March 2021.