Japan ex-soldiers deny sex abuse in high-profile case

Rina Gonoi says she was harassed by multiple male colleagues during her time in the army. – AFP pic, June 14, 2023.

FOUR of the five Japanese ex-soldiers accused of sexually abusing a colleague in a widely followed case denied the allegations today despite a previous apology to the victim, reports said.

The about-face took place during the first hearing in a civil lawsuit filed by former soldier Rina Gonoi, whose testimony has sparked a rare public reckoning over sexual assault in Japan.

Gonoi, 23, says she was harassed by multiple male colleagues during her time in the army.

She is seeking ¥5.5 million (RM180,000) from her attackers for mental distress, and ¥2 million from the government for failing to prevent the assaults or properly investigate them.

In a separate criminal case, three ex-soldiers were charged in March over sexual abuse towards Gonoi.

At today’s hearing, four of the five ex-servicemen said “there was no sexual violence” and that they were performing judo moves, Japanese media reported.

The fifth admitted the accusations and is seeking a settlement, according to the reports.

In October, four of the five men had offered a private apology to Gonoi, although it was unclear if these were the same four who later denied the allegations.

“I’m now convinced that their apologies were just an empty gesture,” Gonoi told reporters after the hearing.

“Words cannot describe the sadness, frustration and anger I felt.”

The ex-soldiers’ U-turn also came despite the state reportedly admitting at the hearing that sexual violence had been committed against Gonoi.

The defence ministry’s own internal probe last September confirmed several instances of assault against her.

Earlier this year, Gonoi told AFP in an interview that she experienced harassment daily after joining the military in 2020.

During a drill in 2021, three colleagues pressed her to the ground, forced apart her legs and each repeatedly pressed their crotches against her, she said.

She reported the incident, but an internal probe concluded there was not enough evidence to proceed.

It was only after Gonoi went public and launched a petition that the case was reopened and a criminal investigation launched. – AFP, June 14, 2023.

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