The first assault story
As I was starting to expand the social circle, I received a phone call from a friend from high school, Kana. She also lived in Tokyo and went to a university on the outskirts of Tokyo. She was one of Izumi’s “cool” girlfriends, a vivacious and funny girl who befriended everyone, including teachers. I could easily imagine her being among new friends in her new life.
She said she wanted to talk about something that happened to her at one of the social drinks with her circle members. She got quite drunk, so one of the older male students accompanied her to her apartment. She remembered she lay on her bed, feeling sick, then he undid her shirt buttons and stripped her skirt. The last thing she remembered was that he was touching her body, and she told him, “NO” more than once. The next morning, she woke up half-dressed, and her pillow was wet with her vomit. She wasn’t sure if he penetrated her, but either way, his violation of her body seriously distressed her.
I told her it was a crime and she could report that to the police. She didn’t sound too convinced and kept mumbling about what she remembered and didn’t, as if trying to make sense of it herself. I kept pressing my point that the part she did remember was enough to be a crime. At the end of our call, her voice became clear again and said she appreciated my perspectives, but she just needed someone to listen to her.
Her assault story impacted me at the time because I couldn’t understand why she didn’t want to take the matter to the police. I had once wanted to study law because I believed the judicial system would punish those who wronged others.
In my circle, there was a third-year student who was studying to become a lawyer. I told him about my friend’s assault case to hear his thoughts, expecting him to agree with me. He said my friend was incapacitated by alcohol, and she “let” him into her apartment, so it’d be difficult to press charges against him because it would seem she encouraged him. If a girl got so drunk that she couldn’t defend herself, she couldn’t blame a man for taking advantage of her. He said this without a sign of sympathy. I felt completely powerless as I realized his opinion was probably the most common narrative in Japan at the time. Kana must have sensed that, and that was why she only sought after consolement rather than advice.
A society’s mainstream narrative, even if they are unjust, inhumane, or cruel, can become the “right” narrative. It is formed by the more powerful – media and the government – and almost always based on patriarchal values. Women’s stories matter little in such a society and leave them with no choice but to conform.
Even in 2016 in the United States, 20 years after Kana’s assault case in Japan, Miss Chanel Miller’s story only got a rich, white Stanford ace swimmer a mere six-months prison sentence, served even shorter, three months. In her memoir, “Know My Name,” she wrote that she was asked about how she was dressed and how much alcohol she had. Women are blamed for “letting” things happen. Patriarchal narratives are so deeply ingrained in our society that, as a result, women carry disproportionately heavier burdens of shame than men do.
I didn’t hear from Kana again for a long time, but her story haunted me ever since as I accumulated my shame in the years to come.