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Asian Lawyers Exchange Meeting 1“Seminar on Domestic Violence"


On March 16, 2022, we held the first online meeting for Asian lawyers and experts to exchange information and share knowledge. For this first meeting, we organized a seminar on domestic violence (DV). From Japan, we invited a criminal law expert whose research theme is damage and harm to children and women. She gave a lecture on the current situation and issues of domestic violence in Japan. We also invited a Japanese lawyer specializing in women's rights to participate in a Q&A session and share her practical experience. Participants from China also shared the current situation in China and their experience in handling sex crime cases as lawyers.


The study session provided a unique opportunity to compare laws and legal systems in two countries and discuss how to promote the protection of sex crime victims in society as a whole. Overall, it was a very fruitful exchange meeting, and we look forward to organizing more of these seminars.



The contents of the lecture and Q&A session are as follows.


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Domestic Violence in Japan

According to the results of a survey conducted by the Cabinet Office in 2020, the rate of repeated domestic violence from spouses was about 2.5 times higher for women than for men. All of Japan's current domestic violence policies are based on the results of this survey. Statistics also show that more women are at risk of life from spousal violence.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic

Since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Japan has focused on gender-based violence and has taken various policies. With regard to domestic violence, the number of people staying at home due to the pandemic has increased, and a new domestic violence consultation system has been introduced and expanded since April 20, 2020. It can be said that this was a relatively quick response. In addition, the "DV Consultation Navi Dial,” a consultation system that provides service in 10 languages by telephone, email, or SNS (LINE) has been established. Looking at the changes in the number of DV consultations, it can be said that the number of consultations will increase if a mechanism that facilitates consultations is created. Changes in the number of other consultations also show an increase, but sufficient research on why DV consultations have increased has not yet been conducted.

Why DV is less likely to be a crime

The reason why DV is less likely to be a crime is that in Japan, there is no crime type called DV crime. Therefore, when a husband violently attacks his wife, the crimes corresponding to a subset of actions such as intimidation and injury are applied rather than a series of actions. The number of cases with arrest by police for violence began to increase 10 years ago, with the most common being "assault." As regards to the age of victims of police intervention cases, 30s, 20s, and 40s occupy the top three places. As for the age of perpetrators, 30s shows the highest number, followed by 40s, and 20s.

Police are now significantly intensifying their intervention in personal and domestic affairs, such as those related to romantic entanglements. From 2013, it was clarified that "there may be intimate partner violence cases in which both stalking and domestic violence are legally applicable,” and questions such as “what can the police do?” and “Should the police respond to requests for assistance?” began to be addressed. Additionally, the roles of the Spousal Violence Counseling and Support Center (hereinafter DV Support Center) have also been clarified. The police have been working on various things, but the problem is that the prosecution often does not prosecute DV cases.

The reason why domestic violence has not been recognized as a crime


As for the cultural and social background, the main reason is that the maxim based on patriarchy and canon law such as "the law does not intervene in family/household affairs" remains deeply rooted in Japan. However, the biggest factor is that it is difficult for victims to recognize domestic violence. Of course, the perpetrators do not think that domestic violence is a crime either. The perpetrators have a poor understanding of gender, and in fact, there are many cases where people who are dominated by conventional thinking become perpetrators.


The idea that crimes occur outside (on the street) is still common, and even those who make policies often believe in it. In addition, despite the fact that DV is a series of actions, there is a problem of capturing a series of crimes by the criminal law. Another problem is the lack of support for domestic violence victims. Since the cases of domestic violence and child abuse have become prominent, supporters tend to separate DV and child abuse, even if they are considered domestic violence crimes. It can be said that the perspective on protecting women’s rights, including that of the government, is very weak overall, and as it can be seen in news articles, the media does not understand the power relation of DV either.


Measures against domestic violence

Basically, Japan has been introducing and implementing measures against domestic violence that are used in the U.S. The Stalker Regulation Law was enacted in 2000, and the Act on the Prevention of Spousal Violence was enacted in 2001. Support is mainly provided by the DV Support Center, but the central and local governments are also obliged to set policies regarding domestic violence. Victim support is very important because long-term violence makes self-determination difficult. It is also important to be able to issue orders such as "protection orders" and "prohibition orders" to prevent further violence. Unlike child abuse, it is a system that allows the victim to decide, and even if he /she goes to the hospital as a result of physical violence, the victim's will is respected.


In 2000, a "special fixed amount benefit" of 100,000 yen was distributed to every household. The problem was that the head of household is usually male, and female DV victims fleeing violence would not be able to receive the benefit. Therefore, a new system was created at a fairly early stage so that even DV victims and evacuees who are not at the address on the residence card could still receive it. The system was a result of the strong lobbying activities done by the Japanese shelter network.


The Act on the Prevention of Spousal Violence

The Cabinet Office has created a pamphlet showing what options are available to the DV victims who need assistance. It states that the DV support center and courts are at the center of the support flow and that interventions by shelters and welfare offices are also optional.


Protection order

The “Restraining Order” (6 months) is an order that protects the violence victim from the perpetrator. It does not allow the perpetrator to hang around or wander around in the victim's residence or other places where the victim is present. On the other hand, the "Move Out Order (2 months)" is an order that can move the perpetrator out of the house. These protection orders are handled by the district court. Violation of a protection order will result in imprisonment of up to one year or a fine of up to one million yen. The protection order has been revised several times since it was made in 2001. The subject of law has been expanded to include cohabiting couples, and the definition has also been expanded to include intimidation and threat in addition to physical violence. Regarding the "Restraining Order", it has been expanded to the point that even calling the victim's children and relatives is not allowed.


Movement to revise the DV Law

Currently, there is a movement to revise the DV law, and the main points to be revised are as follows:

● Expansion of the range of violence that can be reported

● Introduction of emergency protection order system

● Emotional violence is also covered by the reporting and protection order system


Specifically, it takes 10 days to issue a protection order, so we are thinking about making a system or law that can be issued more quickly and easily. In addition, a system that does not require victims to escape is also being considered. Moreover, increasing punishment for violations of protection orders, considering children as victims, and making the DV Law easier to be applied to LGBT population are among the changes that are being considered.


Changes in the forms of domestic violence

In recent years, forms of domestic violence have changed significantly. Not only the form of damage to victims, but also DV itself has changed. In the 20 years since the enactment of the Domestic Violence Law, the number of cases involving psychological violence has increased more than those involving physical violence such as beating. There are sexual and financial abuses behind it. The perpetrator's control becomes so sophisticated that divorce lawyers may be subject to disciplinary action or civil lawsuits may be filed against them. More and more victims are legally controlled by their spouse. In the future, we would like to pay more attention to psychological violence and create a legal system that allows the issuance of protection orders.



Experience sharing by a Japanese lawyer

While there is no DV crime as a criminal offense, it is also common that the victim does not want a criminal case. In fact, there are many cases where the police intervene due to physical violence, but there are many victims who do not report damage. In my experience, people without children (married couples without children) are more likely to report damage due to violence, but the number of reports themselves remains small.


Lawyers are often involved in domestic violence cases through protection orders and divorces. At the same time, lawyers’ involvement in protection orders is still rare. The number of cases of filing protection orders has decreased recently because it is difficult to prove and file due to the limited legal requirements. Another reason for not filing a claim is that the protection order may lead to retaliation by the perpetrator. It is largely due to the insufficiency of Japan's measures and systems regarding retaliation by perpetrators. Even if a protection order is issued, the victim cannot be relieved since the restraining order only lasts for 6 months.


In Japan, domestic violence is seen as one of the causes of divorce. If the perpetrator does not want to divorce and there is a medical certificate such as a broken bone to prove violence, it is simple. On the contrary, mental violence such as moral harassment between spouses is not well understood. Therefore, even if violence is the reason for divoce and the victim escapes to the shelter, divorce may not be permitted. The divorce proceedings can be settled in one year at the earliest, but it can take about three years at the longest.


Q&A Session


Q: I analyze protection orders in Shanghai, China. There are about 100 cases a year, but there are cases that cannot be explained by any means. It has been found that a protection order is unlikely to be granted when a petition is submitted through a lawyer. What do you think is causing it?


A: I don’t know about Shanghai, but in many cases, people need lawyers because the perpetrators do not admit their violence or harassment, and it is difficult to handle the case on their own. Basically, it seems that they don't ask lawyers for cases that DV support centers can handle. When that is difficult, it is often the case that a lawyer is hired.



Q: In many of the cases I handle, calling police would not help at all. When the victim reports, the police do nothing. It was mentioned that the intervention of the Japanese police is an important point, but what makes them so active and committed to fulfilling their duties? Please tell us in detail about the police's change of direction and mechanism.


A: It is largely due to a series of murder cases by stalkers. All cases involved former lovers. The case that became the most Epoch-making was the "Nagasaki Stalker Case” in which two people were killed because the police did not accept the damage report from the stalker victim and her family. The case was severely criticized by the media.


Q: If the police receive a report and arrive at the scene, is there anything else they can do other than questioning? Giving a verbal warning, perhaps? When proving the incident in court, do police officers at the scene testify in court?


A: Stalker and domestic violence tend to be treated as completely different crimes in Japan, although there are many cases in which stalking incidents come after domestic violence. In the case of the Stalker Regulation Law, there is a criminal offense for stalking, so all stalking cases are to be dealt with by the police. If the police give a verbal warning and the stalking behavior continues, a "written warning" in the Stalker Regulation Law will be used. In addition, if that doesn't work, the local public safety commission above the police can issue a "prohibition order".

Penalties are imposed for violating a restraining order. As such, the police can do various things when the incident involves stalking.


On the other hand, in the case of domestic violence, not only the facts are confirmed when the police are called, but also warning the other party as a preventive measure against crime based on the Police Act is the main method. Therefore, unlike the Stalker Regulation Law, there are no police measures such as written warnings. When it comes to violence from a spouse, what the police can do is to put a "viewing restriction" on the victim’s residence card after moving, recommend a security buzzer, or register the victim’s phone number in their system so that they can recognize when an emergency call comes from the same victim.


Generally, the police take a record. In some cases, the police are called as witnesses if the record is submitted to the trial but not agreed by all parties. The police response has changed dramatically since the "Nagasaki Stalker Case,” but I often hear from the police that the prosecution often refuses the case even after the police receive the damage report and begin investigations.


Q: It seems that moral harassment is not understood well in Japan, but do lawyers persuade the judge with legal logic?


A: Even in Japan, it is difficult to explain to the judge. In the current discussion on revisions to the Penal Code regarding sex crimes, revisions to the DV Law that specify that sexual violence between spouses is also a crime may expand the scope of protection orders to include psychological DV. If both amendments go well, the judge's consciousness might change. Physical violence is easy to understand with a medical certificate, but it is difficult to leave evidence if psychological violence occurs for a long time without anyone seeing it. There is no choice but to record and collect evidence.


Also, a victim support organization called Shelternet organizes exchange meetings where lawyers can share the problems they experienced. I have also heard that each bar association has a training session on domestic violence. Some bar associations require all lawyers to take such training sessions through the e-learning system.


Q: I think the role of police officers at the scene is important, but sometimes they don't work properly. In general, do you audit police officers in Japan? It is possible to hold a press conference for the media, but what about in Japan?


A: In Japan, when there is a problem, a trial may be filed against the country.Telling the media or asking the Diet members to do something may be possible, but there are so many cases in which damage report is not accepted, so I feel that it will not be widely reported unless unless death is involved. The Public Safety Commission has a mechanism for filing complaints, but it cannot be expected very much.There is also a Public Safety Commission in each region that accepts opinions and requests regarding police administration. Under Article 79 of the Police Act, complaints can be filed in writing. However, I have never heard that filing a complaint helped solve the problems related to domestic violence.


Q: Are the figures and data used in the lecture surveyed or collected by the Japanese government? Are there surveys conducted by private organizations?


A: All of the surveys introduced here are by the government. In general, offices that have jurisdiction over DV cases, either within the police or the Cabinet Office, are in charge of collecting data and conducting surveys.


Q: It seems that the DV Prevention Law has been revised many times since 2001. Please tell us in detail what triggered the revisions and how they were revised.


A: For example, the "Nagasaki Stalker Case” triggered changes in the definition of spouse, and cohabiting couples have become subject to a protection order. As for the revision to add “similar harmful behaviors” to physical violence, it was meant to be included in the first place when the law was made in 2001, but the Ministry of Justice greatly resisted the idea. The reason is that in Japan, civil and criminal are properly separated, and the imposition of punishment on civil trial cases related to the protection order were considered impossible. Therefore, it was decided only for clear physical violence at first, but victim support groups such as Shelternet pushed toward revision. The hurdles to criminalize violence that occurs within the intimate sphere are high. The Domestic Violence Prevention Act, the Stalker Regulation Act, and the Child Abuse Prevention Act were all created in the form of Diet members-initiated legislation.


The DV Act was created primarily by female Diet members. Back in 1999, there was also a new law on Gender Equality, and it was a time when women in the Diet were enthusiastic about enacting women's rights. The problem with prohibition orders in Japan's DV law is that it doesn't take child custody away from the perpetrator. There have been many cases in which the father approached the mother while seeing the child. Therefore, in 2004, approaching children was also prohibited. The 2007 ban on calling the family of the domestic violence victim is one of the eight items stipulated in the Stalker Regulation Law. Since then, what is prohibited by the Stalker Regulation Law is also prohibited by the DV Law. Because DV perpetrators often become stalkers and violence occurs within the intimate sphere, the stalker control law and its revisions that are more advanced, are often cited in discussions for the revision of the DV Law.


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Through this study session, we reacknowledged that the recognition of domestic violence as a crime is still low in both China and Japan and that the DV law and the support system for victims remain insufficient. However, it is also true that some progress such as the enactment and revision of the law have been made. It is the result of people's desires and efforts to save victims of crime and human rights violations. It is something that should be passed on from generation to generation as an essential element for building a peaceful, safe and just society.

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