The Diet on Friday enacted a law to impose longer prison sentences on rapists, while also covering male victims of sexual crimes.
In the first major revision to the criminal law since its enactment in the Meiji Era (1868-1912), when women could not vote, the bill passed the House of Councillors plenary session after clearing the House of Representatives on June 8.
The revised law will raise the minimum sentence for rape to five years from three years now. Despite the impact on victims, those committing rape have long received a shorter minimum sentence than the five years for robbery under Japanese law.
Under the revised penal code, the requirement that a victim file a complaint in order to prosecute an assailant in a rape or sexual molestation case will be eliminated, as many rape victims are reluctant to do so.
Among other revisions is a new clause pertaining to domestic sexual abuse, under which parents or guardians can be punished for sex with children in their care even when force or threats are not involved. The current criminal law requires use of force or threats in establishing rape cases.
The law will also raise the minimum sentence for rape resulting in death or injury to six years from five years. But some legal experts say toughening penalties alone cannot prevent sex crimes and stress the necessity to improve correctional programs for offenders as well.
The bill was compiled after an advisory panel to the justice minister called for the changes in a report last September in response to calls from rape victims.
Watching in the gallery Friday was Jun Yamamoto, who was molested by her father when she was 13, and members of a Tokyo-based group she heads to support victims of sex crimes. Yamamoto had testified about her experience, and the law’s loopholes before the Upper House Committee on Judicial Affairs prior to the revised laws’ passage.