QotD: “How Japanese law and culture abuse the victims of rape”
The kanji character for “woman” is contained within the character for “house” to make the word “wife”, while “slave” combines “woman” with “hand”. (The kanji for “man” is based on the characters for “field” and “strength”.) “Noisy” is formed of the character for “woman” repeated three times, but the same formation can also mean “seduction” and “wickedness”. “Woman” is the central character in gokan, a controversial word for “rape”. As the linguist Kittredge Cherry explains, “gokan calls to mind the twisted reasoning that rape victims are guilty of ‘asking for it’”. Many women in Japan use the word boko (assault) or reipu (from the English “rape”) instead.
The Japanese journalist Shiori Ito writes briefly of the problems of language in Black Box, which was first published in Japan in 2017 and now translated into English by Allison Markin Powell. The book is her response to her rape in 2015 by Noriyuki Yamaguchi, a powerful journalist who had promised to help Ito, then an intern, to find work. “There is no register for a woman to use in protest that puts her on equal footing with a man who is her superior”, she writes. She recalls pleading with Yamaguchi to stop but, in a language in which hierarchy is built into the way people are addressed, and in which there are no curse words, it “was way too timid”. She switched to English.
The legal definition of rape in Japan is particularly contentious. It includes no mention of consent, and victims must prove violence or threat to a “degree that is markedly difficult to resist”. Ito’s assault was investigated as jungokan, “quasi-rape”, defined as sexual intercourse “by taking advantage of loss of consciousness or inability to resist”. Jun: “partially”, “almost”, “apparently but not really”. Ito writes, “when I describe the terminology to English speakers, they are dumbfounded”.
There is no emergency rape crisis centre in Japan. After the assault, Ito telephoned a hotline meant for victims and was told that no information or advice could be offered over the phone. When she went to the police, the only female officer was in the traffic department (only 8.1 per cent of the Japanese police force is female), and a male investigator told her, “it isn’t convincing unless you cry more, or get angry. You’ve got to act more like a victim”. In a judo hall in the police building, Ito was required to re-enact the rape using a life-sized doll. She was surrounded by male officers – this is routine – while her friend was made to wait outside. A warrant for Yamaguchi’s arrest was eventually granted after CCTV footage showed him dragging Ito’s limp body from a taxi towards his hotel room. The taxi-driver confirmed that Ito had repeatedly requested to be dropped off at the station before she went quiet and vomited; Yamaguchi’s DNA was detected on the inside of Ito’s bra. In a move that has never been fully explained by the police, however, the arrest was stopped on the day it was meant to take place. The order came from Itaru Nakamura, chief of Criminal Investigation at the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department. The case was deemed non-prosecutable. Ito was told that “a third party can’t know what occurs behind closed doors. The public prosecutor referred to this as a ‘black box’”.
In scrutinizing her own assault, examining evidence in the case itself and its investigation, Ito aims to “shine light into this black box”. The book reveals not only a culture of victim-blaming and lack of support for victims, but also the extent to which the powerful are protected in Japan. When Ito held a public press conference, the government stepped in, advising media outlets not cover the story (Yamaguchi is the biographer and friend of Shinzo Abe, then prime minister). Ito faced such a barrage of abuse that, for her own safety, she left the country. Yamaguchi continued to appear on television where he and others mocked Ito.
Ito has been credited with starting the #MeToo movement in Japan, but unlike campaigners in other countries she has mostly stood alone. In the epilogue to this English edition, written in March 2021, she recalls a lawyer’s view that “in Japan, it’s dangerous even to whisper ‘me too’”. There was, Ito says, “a lack of understanding about sexual violence and sexual harassment, as well as deeply rooted prejudices and biases against victims”. To speak up was like “sticking our heads into a beehive”. In 2019, Ito won a civil suit against Yamaguchi; the decision acknowledged that “there had not been consent”. Ito writes, if “sexual intercourse without consent was routinely prohibited in criminal law, and had I found redress, then perhaps I wouldn’t have gone to the length of writing this book”. “More than five years have passed since I experienced instantaneous destruction”, but “I am still me”. Black Box, a comprehensive exposé of injustice by a fierce and talented journalist, is the proof.
QotD: “The woman who stopped a sex monster”
Courtney Wild was archetypal prey for Jeffrey Epstein. Petite, blonde and blue-eyed, she grew up with a struggling single mother on a Florida trailer park. At a party, aged 14, another girl asked her if she wanted to make $200 giving an older guy a massage.
Inside a stupendous Palm Beach mansion, the overawed Courtney massaged someone she believed was a wealthy brain surgeon. Then he told her to strip, fondled her while he ejaculated, and handed her a wad of notes. She hated every second, but the money was life-changing. She anaesthetised herself with alcohol and cannabis and returned. He raped her and paid her more.
Soon she learnt she could escape his attentions — and double her money — by recruiting new, younger girls. By 16, she was working regularly for him, able to afford her own apartment.
Thus, on an industrial scale, morning, noon and night, for years, Epstein was serviced with vulnerable children. They were transported on his private jet, some from abroad, in a sex trafficking pyramid scheme. Famous names flit in and out of this book — Bill Clinton, Donald Trump, Prince Andrew, Bill Gates, plus several of America’s biggest business and legal names. It is not suggested that they knew what Epstein was doing but they are all tainted by his friendship.
Epstein, incidentally, kept 20 phone numbers for Trump in his so-called Black Book, including one marked “emergency contact”.
It’s hard to grasp quite how sordid Epstein was. Troubled girls from poor, broken homes believed he would make them famous models; some were infatuated with him. If they agreed to his demands, they thought they would escape their miserable lives, dreams would come true. Some did thrive, but the majority ended up damaged and drug-addicted, even dead. “He victimised people he thought nobody would ever listen to, and he was right,” Courtney said.
The person ultimately responsible for bringing Epstein down and finding justice for these children wasn’t a big name from one of America’s elite newspapers. It was a local woman who listened. Julie K Brown was a tough, award-winning investigative reporter on a provincial paper, the Miami Herald, who had her own troubles: she struggled to bring up two children as a single parent, relied on payday loans and lived in fear of redundancy.
Perversion of Justice is the story of how Brown, under-resourced, often unsupported and at considerable personal risk, exposed the way the American legal system let Epstein off the hook. There should have been a reckoning in 2005, when two dogged Florida police officers pursued him for abusing a 14-year-old girl. The FBI identified a further 36 children. But Epstein was a big donor to the Democrats with formidable connections and a bottomless bank account. He bribed, intimidated and paid off the victims, and in a stitch- up between state and federal lawmakers was treated with unheard-of leniency. In 2008 he got 13 months for two charges of soliciting minors and spent much of the sentence on extensive “work release” (of which more later). The US attorney for the Southern District of Florida who accepted his plea deal was Alexander Acosta, later appointed by Trump as labor secretary.
And so the scandal might have remained buried, had it not been for Brown. In 2018, after years of poring over court documents and crossing the country coaxing victims and police officers to speak, her explosive revelations were published by the Miami Herald in a series of videos and articles.
Epstein was arrested a few months later on federal charges for sex trafficking in Florida and New York, and found dead in jail soon after, in August 2019. Much more of his depravity is now known. Within days Acosta had resigned from his post at the White House. Epstein’s associate Ghislaine Maxwell is on remand awaiting trial and a raft of powerful men may not be sleeping easily.
Brown’s book bears testament to the extraordinarily porous relationship between American law and politics, and the endemic corruption. It’s also an age-old heartwarmer about the little person taking down the mighty. The divide in America, she says, is not between left and right, it’s between those with power and those without. Epstein’s philosophy, like that of other wealthy men, was if you had enough money and knew the right people, you could get away with anything.
Brown discovered media organisations who had filmed victims’ stories, but chosen not to broadcast them. Their words, she says, mattered less than the words of the man in the boardroom with dollars at stake. What happened with Harvey Weinstein repeated with Epstein.
The financier threw his money around like bait, bribing or extorting almost everyone involved, flouting the justice system in every possible way. In 2005 neither state nor federal prosecutors put a stop to his intimidation, thereby sabotaging their own cases. Lawyers for the girls were convinced the government and the defendant were working against the victims.
Brown found evidence that Epstein continued to access under-age girls while on “work release” during his brief 2008 sentence. Threesomes in fact, two girls at a time, while the sheriff’s deputies stood outside the door.
By 2011 he had reshaped himself as a maverick science philanthropist, flying geniuses around the world and hosting conferences to save the planet. He adapted a submarine so Stephen Hawking, a guest on his notorious Caribbean island, could go underwater for the first time. He sprayed money at causes to save the world, cure disease, fund AI and rescue humanity. Modestly, he planned a baby ranch at his New Mexico compound, seeding the human race with his own DNA. He was obsessed with cryonics — the freezing of humans to preserve life — and told people he wanted his head and penis frozen.
Ah, that penis. In a mysterious incident shortly before his death, he was found unconscious in his cell in New York, a windowless room, infested with insects and rats, with standing water on the floor. Had his fellow inmate, a corrupt cop, tried to kill him, or had the cop, as he claimed, prevented Epstein killing himself? “For reasons unexplained,” Brown writes scathingly, “the authorities had bunked a hulking accused killer with a 66-year-old nerd with an egg-shaped penis who happened to be the nation’s most famous child molester.”
Brown reveals evidence showing it is unlikely that Epstein, once in solitary, killed himself by hanging. What happened to the prison tapes? Why did both guards fall asleep? Why was the scene tidied up so quickly? And how would a man who employed staff to do everything for him, to the point of lacing his shoes, know how to hang himself so effectively he broke three bones in his neck? His death suited many people.
Others will write fuller, more polished accounts of the Epstein scandal. But Perversion of Justice is a gritty, honest and quietly magnificent statement about one woman’s bravery, the hard graft of investigative journalism and the vital ability of a free press to do what the legal authorities conspicuously wouldn’t: bring one of America’s most wicked men to justice. I see a movie in it.
By March 2021 at least 175 women had filed complaints about Epstein and more than $67 million had been paid to his victims. Meanwhile, in her book’s acknowledgments, Brown credits her landlady for not kicking her out when she couldn’t pay the rent. The one thing this book lacks is an index, but — little known fact — often authors have to fund these themselves. Under the circumstances, Julie K Brown is forgiven.
QotD: “The discredited legal tactic that’s putting abused UK children in danger”
In court custody battles over the past few years, a new term, “parental alienation”, has taken root. The phrase – based on a “syndrome” that has been internationally discredited and is banned from use in family courts in some countries – is based on the idea that one parent brainwashes a child to distance it from the other parent, who is blameless. Children’s wishes and feelings are often seen as manipulated and therefore are often discounted by the family courts and professionals.
I have watched, horrified, as parental alienation has become the go-to litigation tactic, often used by domestic abusers to discredit allegations made against them by their ex-partner. Although parental alienation can be raised by either parent, overwhelmingly I see it being deployed as a counter-allegation by fathers when mothers try to prove they or their children have been subjected to abuse.
Parental alienation can happen, but it is extremely rare, as a Cardiff University review concluded. Yet time and time again I have watched the allegation being used by abusers to silence, threaten and blame victims of domestic abuse who are simply trying to protect their children from unsafe contact.
Even worse, there are cases where the courts have found domestic abuse to have been proved – and yet the victim is still told by the judge that she must not “alienate” the children from the perpetrator, and if she does not promote contact then the children could be moved away. So, on some occasions, children have been moved from their home with their protective parent, the victim of abuse, to the abuser’s home. Children in this situation could not be more vulnerable.
When domestic abuse has been proved, there are entirely justifiable reasons for a victim to have negative views of their abuser, and the term “parental alienation” should never form any part of subsequent proceedings. But for men who are abusers there is another reason to use it too: one woman going through proceedings said, “Women are often legally advised that if they mention abuse then they’ll lose custody of their children to their abuser.” I have seen this happen.
In last night’s Channel 4 Dispatches, mothers described their gruelling legal battles as they try to protect their children. Jane’s ex-husband dragged her through the family court after their two children refused to go to “contact” with him. The father accused Jane of alienating the children against him. Ultimately, the judge ordered the police to forcibly remove the children from their home. The police body cam of the removal is extremely distressing.
As a family law barrister, I have advised and represented teenagers who have been through the trauma of forced separation and many years later are still desperate to return to their mother’s care. The teenagers in the documentary describe being traumatised, angry at professionals for not listening to them, and desperate to live with their mother. Repeatedly, they ran away from their father’s home, to go back to her – at which point the family court issued a power of arrest on Jane if they absconded back to her again.
When the domestic abuse bill was before parliament, some mens’ rights groups fought for parental alienation to be defined as domestic abuse. Claire Waxman, the victims’ commissioner for London, experienced a backlash from this lobby after she opposed their plan, and said parental alienation campaigners were attempting to thwart her efforts to help victims of abuse. Unfortunately, parental alienation is still defined as controlling or coercive behaviour in the draft statutory guidance.
But where did it all start? Dr Richard Gardner, an American child psychiatrist, created the concept and produced a series of self-published books on parental alienation syndrome in the 1980s. He testified in more than 400 custody cases, discrediting allegations of domestic abuse or child sex abuse and recommending transfer of residence from one parent to another. He believed that 90% of mothers alleging child sexual abuse were liars who brainwashed their children, and that paedophilia “is a widespread and accepted practice among literally billions of people”. Gardner and the “syndrome” were discredited by the late 1990s.
A US judicial guide states that the supreme court ruled the syndrome was based on “soft sciences” and is thus inadmissible. It is not recognised as a legitimate clinical term by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence. A UK government report last year highlighted concerns about the unscrupulous credentials of so-called “experts” on parental alienation. And yet, over the past decade, the concept has gained traction here and is now a regular fixture in our family courts. And the weight applied to so-called parental alienation experts by the family courts is often significant. The family court support service, Cafcass, has adopted a practice guidance on parental alienation giving junk science further weight. There is no empirical evidence that a transfer of residence can make a child love the alienated parent, but there is evidence that it can result in further harm to children.
Two years ago, 77 leading professionals signed a letter calling on the president of the family division to tighten the law to prevent unregulated experts from writing reports in family cases. Unfortunately, he refused to take this issue forward, leaving victims – primarily mothers – and children at risk.
The dangerous label of parental alienation is now the single biggest threat to the credibility of victims of domestic abuse, and to the voices of children. It gives validation, power and control to perpetrators. Any court that countenances unevidenced allegations of parental alienation is potentially sanctioning abuse. Sadly, it may take a tragedy before anyone will actually listen.
Charlotte Proudman is a human rights barrister specialising in violence against women and girls
QotD: “Hundreds call NSPCC helpline about school sex abuse”
More than 500 people have called a helpline about school sex abuse in the three months since it was established.
The NSPCC phone line was launched on April 1 after the Everyone’s Invited campaign, which led to thousands of people sharing testimonies on a website about harassment and abuse suffered at school.
By June 30, the helpline had received 513 contacts and referred 97 to external agencies such as police and local officials. The charity said that some of the concerns mentioned included harmful sexual behaviour and historical abuse.
Information about the caller was known in 185 contacts, resulting in advice or a referral. Of these, 96 were from adult or child victims, of which 63 were female, 28 male and five unknown.
A further 50 were from concerned parents. Sandra Robinson, NSPCC helpline manager, said: “The prevalence of abuse including sexual violence in schools has been brought into the spotlight.
“As the summer holidays approach, it is vital this issue isn’t sidelined and we keep up the conversation to ensure children get access to the support they need and make sure it doesn’t happen to others in the future.”
The helpline is called Report Abuse in Education. The charity is working with the Department for Education to provide the bespoke helpline for children and young people who have experienced abuse at school, and for worried adults and professionals that need support and guidance.
Ofsted said in a report last month that sexual harassment in schools had become normalised. The investigation found that heads and teachers underestimated the scale of abuse in schools.
Amanda Spielman, the chief inspector of education, said that she was shocked by the inquiry’s findings and that all heads should assume such incidents were happening in their schools.