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Do Not “Human Rights” Also Include Women’s Rights?

SNA (Vancouver) — When a person realizes that someone they trusted and admired has used, is using, or is attempting to sexually take advantage of her/him, that person experiences emotional damage regardless of whether or not a sexual act has actually occurred. In cases where a non-consensual sexual act (=rape) has occurred, that person will likely suffer lifelong damage. The infliction of such damage is indisputably a crime.

Ryuichi Hirokawa has covered war, AIDS from contaminated blood products, nuclear power plant accidents, and other societal problems on the front lines for half a century as a photojournalist advocating human rights. The weekly magazine Shukan Bunshun published an article in its issue that went on sale on December 26 (January 3-10, 2019 issue) revealing that Hirokawa abused his superior position to engage in non-consensual sexual activities with, take nude photographs of, and otherwise sexually exploit aspiring female photojournalists under his tutelage.

The testimonies of the women in the article are shocking. One explained that Hirokawa had her come to a hotel room saying he would teach her about photography, then raped her as soon as she entered the room. Another said that he forced himself upon her while she was only semi-conscious from illness during an overseas work trip for which Hirokawa had hired her as his assistant. One woman testified that Hirokawa attempted to seduce her by saying, “I use sex to ease the stress of reporting on conflict zones.”

I felt traumatized just by reading these women’s testimonies, so the distress and confusion experienced by the women who were actually victimized by Hirokawa must be beyond my imagination.

According to the Shukan Bunshun article and other sources, Hirokawa tended to shout verbal abuse at his staff when angry, and his workplace was imbued with a fear of doing anything that might incite his ire. The women’s testimonies paint a picture of a man who used women’s fear that without the backing of a charismatic figure such as himself they would not be able to make it in the tight-knit photojournalism field, in order to to deftly create an environment in which the women could not say no to his sexual advances.

According to the article, Hirokawa acknowledged his sexual relationships with the women and asserted that he did not force himself upon them, but rather that they were attracted to him, and averred that “it’s not my fault” that the women were hurt.

On December 26, No More Sexual Harassment in Media (Media ni okeru sekuhara o kangaeru kai), represented by Mayumi Taniguchi, associate professor of Osaka International University, issued a statement saying, “We have been contacted directly regarding these acts by the women who came forward, and we have information sufficient to believe that their accusations are true.” On December 27, a non-profit organization Human Rights Now disclosed that it had been consulted by victims before the Shukan Bunshun article came out.

Days Japan, a monthly magazine long managed by Hirokawa, issued a statement on December 26 that it had dismissed Hirokawa as president and director after speaking with him about the issue. On December 31, it issued a second statement saying that its subsequent hearings with Hirokawa confirmed that there were other similar incidents that happened beyond those who testified for the Shukan Bunshun article. Days Japan promised to cover this issue in the its March 2019 issue, the last before its discontinuance (the decision to stop publishing had been announced in November 2018, before the Hirokawa allegations became public).

Hirokawa was also dismissed from his position as chairman of the Recuperation Center for Fukushima Children on Kumejima, an island about 100 kilometers west of Okinawa Island.

Also on December 26, Hirokawa issued a comment stating, “At the time, I was unable to realize the feelings of the [women] who were interviewed, and I lacked awareness that I had hurt them. I earnestly apologize to the [women] who ended up hurt in this way because my manner of interacting with them was insincere (fujitsu).”

His use of the word fujitsu does not sit right with me. If he meant it in the dictionary sense of “insincere,” this would mean that the women “ended up hurt because [his] manner of interacting with them was insincere.” Does this explanation not minimize the issue, as though the problem is one of a relationship between equal individuals? This comment alone does not convey whether Hirokawa himself acknowledges the nature of the incidents as sexual assault by abuse of power.

That a person who has garnered respect and admiration for work advocating social justice and helping the powerless should at the same time be a repeat offender violating the rights of women has been met with shock, but is this not just the tip of the iceberg? In my observation, it seems that “women” are often entirely absent from the human rights to be protected and discrimination to be vanquished in the conduct of individuals and organizations that profess to promote “peace” and “respect for human rights.” Again and again, I have seen victims find it all the more difficult to raise their voices against sexual harassment or power harassment because the individual or organization at fault is doing “good.”

I believe that the way to reduce the future number of victims unable to speak up is for society as a whole to take serious notice of the present Hirokawa case that has been brought to light and to seriously work towards revealing the facts, pursuing accountability, supporting and helping the victims, and rehabilitating the offender.

This is an updated English version of Satoko Oka Norimatsu’s article series Norimatsu Satoko no me [Norimatsu Satoko’s Eyes] , No. 23, which originally appeared in Ryukyu Shimpo, December 30, 2018.

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