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Sunday, Oct. 18, 2009

MEDIA MIX

Professor, schoolgirl share victim status in grope case


Last April, the Supreme Court reversed a Tokyo High Court decision that found Masahiro Nakura, a professor of medicine at the Self-Defense Forces University, guilty of being a chikan (groper) after he was charged with sexually assaulting a 17-year-old high school girl on the Odakyu train line in 2006. A majority of the judges said they thought the girl's statement was "unreliable."

The media hailed the verdict as a victory for justice and common sense. Veteran journalist Soichiro Tahara brought Nakura on to TV Asahi's "Sunday Project" and extended his sympathies. The system was so infernal, Tahara said, that "even a distinguished professor" had to endure three trials (the original plus two appeals) and the presumed browbeating of police and prosecutors. Tahara's words brought tears to Nakura's eyes — and to the eyes of the show's female announcer as well.

However, not everyone was happy. A recent issue of Kinyobi ran several essays by women writers who think the judges were prejudiced. Nobuko Kamenaga starts off hers by saying that the "iron rule" of a criminal trial is that the benefit of the doubt should favor the suspect, but such a premise assumes that the suspect is the person on trial. Based on the judges' opinions, she concludes that it was the victim who was on trial.

What makes groping cases different from most other crimes is that it is almost impossible to have a witness. It is one person's word against another, which is why the vast majority of on-site apprehensions (genko taiho) are made by the victims themselves.

What bothered the judges about the victim's version of events is that she endured the groping "without doing anything about it" and then didn't bring the alleged groper to the police until almost the end of the line, after the train had stopped at a number of stations. At one point, she was forced off the packed train by the crowd and then re-boarded it right next to the professor, who she said then resumed fondling her.

The judges said that groping on crowded trains tends to be an impulsive act, and the girl's description of the alleged perpetrator's focus on her didn't jibe with what they felt was the normal modus operandi of train gropers. They speculated that "most groping victims perhaps haven't really experienced groping," thus suggesting that what they really experienced was nothing more than unavoidable close contact. Consequently, the judges thought it was likely that the girl made up the story.

One of the criteria the judges used to reach their conclusion is something called the "rule of experience" (keikensoku), and Kamenaga states that a man's experience in this case is different from a woman's, since men are rarely victims of groping. Being felt up on a crowded train can be devastating and disorienting, but in any case the girl's deliberate actions showed that she was determined to have the alleged groper properly dealt with. Because the train was so crowded, it was impossible for her to disembark with her assailant until Shimokitazawa Station and bring him to the police, who then took him into custody. She did what she was supposed to do under those circumstances.

In the media, however, she became the person who ruined the life of a "distinguished professor" by bringing false charges (enzai) against him. After Shukan Shincho published her measurements, Internet commentators started saying that no man would want to touch such a fat girl.

"Enzai" is a hot word right now, thanks mainly to Toshikazu Sugaya, who was released after 17 years in prison for a murder conviction based on wrong DNA data. The word, however, has become more directly associated with groping cases, especially since the 2006 release of Masayuki Suo's hit movie "I Just Didn't Do It," which describes a young man falsely accused of groping a high school girl on a train.

Men's fear of false groping charges is covered more intensely in the press than women's fear of being groped, and it has produced a literary subgenre. There are books on the market about "chikan enzai" involving groping accusations made by dangerously paranoid or malicious women. There are relatively few books about victims of groping, or any kind of sex crimes, for that matter.

An interesting addition to this subgenre was broadcast on Fuji TV two weeks ago. The drama "Someone is Lying" tells the story of a mild-mannered salaryman accused of groping by a high school girl on a crowded train. He is arrested and detained for six months. Police and prosecutors treat him like dirt, his initial lawyer abandons his case, and his company lets him go, mainly because he maintains his innocence after being told that he can be released with a mild rebuke if he admits to the charge.

The title of the drama indicates that one of the parties is not telling the truth, and since viewers are aware that the salaryman is innocent, it must be the girl. However, the story concludes with a ridiculously implausible explanation for the girl's accusation that lets her off the hook. It turns out she really was being groped, but not by the salaryman, and that this groping was videotaped by a third person, thus providing the sort of evidence usually required in a criminal trial but which in reality is absent from groping trials. In he-said-she-said situations, if one side is innocent, then the other is presumed to be guilty.

Female sexual-aids entrepreneur Minori Kitahara, also writing in Kinyobi, believes that the Supreme Court's opinion "basically tells potential gropers that they can do anything they want." Groping, she says, is already being discussed not as a crime but as a "proclivity." Since 2004, the arrest rate has been dropping, but Kitahara doesn't think it's because gropers are giving up their lascivious ways. It's because more and more victims believe that arresting them is useless.



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