Japanese Authorities Okays The Sexual Abuse Of 18-20 Year Olds

Ryann Connell
Not long after she had finished elementary school, the father of a now 18-year-old woman identifies only as Miss A began "visiting" her bedroom and sexually abusing her.

His unwanted ministrations continued for years. She graduated high school in the spring of last year but failed to gain entrance into a university, so stayed at home to study.

"He stopped coming in for a while, but then started all over again," Miss A tells Yomiuri Weekly journalist and confidante Miho Nagata.

When the teen's mother was due to go away for a weekend, she was terrified that her father would be able to do as he liked with her, so Nagata stepped in to try and help. But after the journalist dragged the girl away from her incestuous father's clutches, she was horrified to discover Japan's support system places the young woman in limbo -- simply because she's aged 18.

Japanese are legally minors until turning 20, until which time their parents have the legal right and obligation to supervise and educate them. However, laws aimed at protecting children from abusive parents only apply to those under 18. Despite the years of her father's abuse, the Tokyo Child Consultation Center refused to help her.

"If she's 18, her case can't be picked up by one of our centers," the Yomiuri Weekly quotes a spokesman saying.

Other public authorities were equally unhelpful.

"If she really was being abused, why did she wait until she was 18 until telling someone?" the weekly quotes the ever-helpful police from the country area where Miss A grew up as saying.

Public health authorities in the same city expressed similar doubts about her situation. Women's shelter officials in Tokyo were equally unresponsive, saying they generally dealt only with female victims of physical rather than sexual violence.

"It would be the first time we've ever had to deal with a case where a woman was being sexually abused by a member of her family," the weekly quotes a shelter employee saying.

Miss A's age even worked against her when it came to seeking mental health care for the anguish she had suffered.

"If she's under 20, we can't admit her to the hospital without her parents' permission," a spokesman for a mental health hospital says.

Parental permission was highly unlikely to be forthcoming considering the circumstances surrounding Miss A's case, and the fact that her mother and father were constantly ringing or mailing her and demanding she return home. The police also came after her when her parents filed a missing person's report and demanded she be returned to their side.

Eventually, Miss A sought refuge in a place the Japanese call a Woman's Dormitory. These places were initially set up in the 1950s to house and rehabilitate prostitutes after Japan outlawed prostitution. Many of the current residents are also the original inhabitants, and teenage Miss A struggled to live in the communal dorms with the old women.

After most authorities told her they were unable to deal with her case, one welfare worker helpfully suggested to Miss A that she could always go and live in an Internet caf?, the current favorite refuge of many financially strapped Japanese. Police, however, advised the teen to return to the home of the parents who had prompted her to seek sanctuary in the first place.

In the end, Miss A -- shocking those who had tried to help her -- did, in fact, go back to her home. Experts on abuse say it's a common pattern among victims. They also say it's common for many sexually abused children to stay silent about their ordeal until turning 18 and sliding into limbo in Japan.

"We often hear of cases where the victim has actually waited until turning 18 before they tell anyone what has been happening to them," Yuko Taniga, head of Kirara -- an NPO that helps sex abuse victims -- tells Yomiuri Weekly. "Unlike neglect or physical violence, it's very hard for incest victims to tell others about the abuse they've been subjected to. For many victims, incest starts before they know what sex is about, and they can think the same thing happens in every family. There are some incest victims who so enjoy the pleasure of sex that they can't turn it down, even if a relative is forcing it on them. The shame of gaining sexual pleasure makes it all the harder to talk about. There are more than a few minors over 18 who suffer in this way because the Child Welfare Law can't protect them."

Changes to the law in 2004 do allow abused children over 18 but under 20 to apply to a family court to have their parents' guardianship over them declared void. However, it's a step few youngsters are willing to take.

"Even if they are abusive, for children parents are still parents," Kirara's Taniga says. "There are hardly any children who would sue to have their parent's guardianship over them removed."

That leaves few options for youngsters like Miss A who are being abused but are too old to seek refuge through child protection services and too young to be legally treated as adults."Abuse victims with nowhere to go are often forced into sex businesses if they're female, or homelessness if they're male, Tetsuro Tsuzaki, a professor at Hanazono University in Kyoto tells Yomiuri Weekly. "Laws should at least be changed so that children's homes can help people until they turn 20."

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