Rina Gonoi: Former Japanese soldier reaches settlement with perpetrators of sexual abuse

Rina Gonoi: Former Japanese soldier reaches settlement with perpetrators of sexual abuse

Philip Fong/AFP/Getty Images/File

Prosecutors reopened an investigation that found Rina Gonoi, a former member of the Japan Self-Defense Force, endured daily physical and verbal sexual harassment between fall 2020 and August 2021.

Tokyo/Hong Kong

A former soldier who was sexually abused while serving in the Japanese military has reached a civil settlement with three of her convicted attackers in a case that exposed a widespread culture of intimidation within the country’s self-defense force.

The settlement, initiated by the three former soldiers who were found guilty of sexual abuse by a Japanese court in December, includes an apology and a monetary payment, Rina Gonoi said on her X account on Tuesday. She did not disclose the amount of money involved.

“Today I would like to announce that a settlement has been reached in the civil case with the three perpetrators who were found guilty in the criminal case,” Gonoi said.

Gonoi has filed both criminal and civil cases in court, including the civil lawsuit seeking compensation from the government and five former members of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) for emotional distress caused by sexual abuse, public broadcaster NHK reported.

“I am relieved that the three years of fighting are over and I feel exhausted like three years ago, but I will make sure I don’t get sick,” Gonoi said on her Instagram account Tuesday night.

She had previously settled with another of the five former JSDF members in the civil case, and the trial against the government and the remaining former members will continue, NHK reported.

Yoshiaki Saito, a lawyer representing the three soldiers, told CNN on Wednesday that they had no comment. CNN has also reached out to Japan’s Ministry of Defense and the JSDF for comment.

Gonoi said she endured daily physical and verbal sexual abuse for more than a year while serving in the JSDF, vowing to bring her tormentors to justice when she left the military in June 2022.

Authorities initially seemed unwilling to believe her, but Gonoi’s refusal to remain silent eventually prompted prosecutors to reopen the investigation into sexual harassment within the JSDF.

“I wanted to help other people who were also sexually harassed (in the JSDF). As for the perpetrators, I wanted an apology and for them to admit what they did; I wanted to prevent others from going through the same thing I did; that’s why I spoke out,” Gonoi told CNN in July of last year.

The extensive investigation led by Japan’s Ministry of Defense found that Gonoi faced physical and verbal sexual harassment on a daily basis between late 2020 and August 2021.

Japan’s struggles with gender inequality, highlighted by the #MeToo campaign, are well-documented. The country ranks at the bottom of the G7 and 125th out of 146 countries in the World Economic Forum’s gender inequality index.

Gonoi said she saw JSDF members as heroes as a child. She grew up wanting to be like them after female officers came to her aid following the deadly 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami that decimated her hometown of Higashi-Matsushima in Japan’s northern Miyagi Prefecture.

Years later, she would be posted to a JSDF station in Fukushima, another area devastated by the 2011 disaster. It was there that she told CNN she first experienced sexual harassment.

“They would comment on my body and the size of my breasts. Or they would come up to me in the hallways and suddenly hug me in the hallway. That kind of thing happened on a daily basis,” Gonoi said of her time at the station.

The final straw came in August 2021, when Gonoi said she was pinned to the floor of a dormitory while multiple male officers simulated sexual intercourse. It was this incident that convinced her to report her attackers.

Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP/Getty Images/File

Rina Gonoi speaks to the media after the Fukushima District Court found three perpetrators guilty of “forcible indecent assault” on her during her service in the JSDF on December 12, 2023.

When she reported the alleged abuse to military authorities, two investigations were launched, but both were dropped due to a lack of evidence, prompting her to take the fight to social media.

It was a rare move to go public in a country where victims of sexual abuse can face backlash for speaking out.

But it paid off, as the attention on social media forced the JSDF to reconsider.

The Ministry of Defense eventually launched a large-scale investigation into sexual harassment within the JSDF, which revealed that Gonoi had been subjected to physical and verbal sexual harassment on a daily basis between late 2020 and August 2021.

The matter reached its highest level when Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said during a parliamentary meeting in October 2022 that he understood that sexual harassment cases were being handled improperly by the JSDF and the ministry.

In December last year, a Japanese court found the three men guilty of violent indecent acts with Gonoi.

The court sentenced the trio to two years in prison with a suspended sentence, NHK reports, meaning they can avoid prison if they do not commit a crime within two years.

Boram Jang, East Asia researcher at Amnesty International, said the historic decision was an encouraging sign, but “the country still has a long way to go to change both its criminal justice system and the culture of victim blaming that undermines the credibility of survivors.”

“Rina Gonoi dared to speak out to break the cycle of impunity for gender-based violence in Japan. This is a rare victory not only for her, but for all victims and survivors of sexual violence in Japan, many of whom suffer in silence,” Jang said in a statement after the verdict.