Shiori Ito, face of Japan's #MeToo movement, wins suit against alleged offender

Shirori Ito, a journalist by profession filed a civil lawsuit against a former TV presenter, with close links with PM Shinzo Abe, was awarded $30,000 in damages

Shiori Ito's case garnered world-wide attention when she spoke about being raped by the prominent Japanese journalist Noriyuki Yamaguchi. Rape and other sexual assault cases mostly remain unreported in Japan. After her criminal lawsuit was turned down, Ito filed a civil suit against her alleged offender. Yamaguchi, meanwhile denied the allegations and filed a countersuit against Ito, that was turned down. Yamaguchi will have to pay $30,000 in damages, in this high-profile rape case.

Ito accused Yamaguchi of raping her in 2015

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Ito made waves in 2017 when she came out in public about being raped by Yamaguchi in 2015. She alleged that she met Yamaguchi for drinks to discuss a job offer. She suspects being drugged and said she was "in a hotel room and he was on top of me". Ito was an intern at Reuters, when the incident occurred; while Yamaguchi was Washington bureau chief for the Tokyo Broadcasting System, a major media firm in Japan.

Yamaguchi had denied the allegations and maintained that sex was consensual. He has long covered PM Shinzo Abe and is said to have close ties with him.

Support and criticism

Before the ruling, Ito went before camera and said she had received widespread support. "Since I woke up this morning, I have seen several messages from around the world that they are with me no matter how this turns out because my action has been meaningful," she told reporters, Japan Times reported. When she first spoke out in public, it was "viewed as odd" in Japan.

According to a 2017 government report, only 4% of the women with such cases come out. "I saw women in Europe or the United States actively discussing it and standing up together but I didn't think that happened in Japan at the same time," she said. "In Japanese culture, suffering in silence is considered as noble," Ito said in a recent interview. She also shared about being insulted and getting threats, not just by men, but by women as well.

Court awarded $30,000 in damages

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On Wednesday (December 18), Tokyo court awarded her 3.3 million yen ($30,000) in damages. Ito sought 11 million yen ($100,500) for the same. Yamaguchi sought 130 million yen, in a countersuit filed by him, which was turned down.

The court said in a summary of the verdict that the credibility of Ito's account, in which she said she was forced to have sex while unconscious and despite resisting after she regained consciousness, was relatively high. It also said there were grave doubts about the credibility of Yamaguchi's statements, in which he said the sex was consensual.

"We won. The countersuit was turned down," said Ito, teary-eyed, outside the court, holding up a banner that read "victory."

Rape penalties were made harsher in 2017, with prison-term for rapists being increased from three years to five years. The definition of sexual assault was also expanded.