A panel of the Japanese justice ministry proposed the change this year as part of a package of reforms to sex crime legislation. The proposals also clarify rape prosecution requirements and criminalize voyeurism. The bill cleared parliament’s upper house on Friday in a unanimous vote. The age of consent — below which sexual activity is considered statutory rape — remains the lowest in the G7 group of developed nations and has been unchanged since 1907.
The new laws will make it a crime to have nonconsensual sex with anyone under 16. They will also criminalize the secret filming or photographs of people engaged in sexual intercourse, including upskirting. The laws will also make it a crime to promise money or other incentives to children under 16 to prevent the sexual grooming of minors. The laws will criminalize rape if the victim is under the influence of drugs or alcohol or if the perpetrator takes advantage of their social status, among other things. They will also extend the statute of limitations or legal window for reporting a sex crime to 15 years from 10 years.
Several rape acquittals in 2019 provoked outrage in Japan and spurred calls for changes to the law. The reforms will be phased in over the next decade. The first of them will take effect on July 2022. The other provisions will take effect on October 2024.
Under the new law, teen couples no more than five years apart in age will be exempt from prosecution if both are over 13. The new law also makes it a crime to drug or catch someone off-guard during sexual intercourse or to control them psychologically. It will also criminalize sex-related grooming of minors by people who try to coerce them with threats, seduction, or promises of money, among other things. It will also make a person who illegally possesses or publish child pornography a prisoner for up to a year and fine them up to 500,000 yen ($3,500).
One of the most significant clarifications of rape prosecution requirements is that it must be proven that a victim did not intend to consent to their intercourse. It also sets out eight scenarios where it is difficult for a victim to “form, express or fulfill their intention not to consent” to an assault. These include situations in which the victim is intoxicated with alcohol or drugs, subject to violence or threats, or frightened or astonished.
Campaigners welcomed the reforms, with the Tokyo-based group Human Rights Now calling them “a big step forward.” The law will be put to a vote in the lower house of parliament on June 20. Campaigners are urging the lower house to approve it and pass it on to the prime minister for final approval before it takes effect. In the meantime, the government is setting up a task force to explore ways to improve public awareness about sex crimes and promote further measures to fight them.