TOKYO (AP) – A former Japanese soldier who suffered sexual harassment while serving in the military said Monday she has accepted apologies from four soldiers in a groundbreaking case that prompted a Defense Ministry investigation into growing reports of assaults in the military.
Rina Gonoi told reporters that the four attackers, who were her superiors in the army, met with her separately and apologized for the pain that caused her to give up her military career. She said some admitted to sexually harassing other soldiers as well.
Four men told her they planned to resign from the military to take over, she said. They gave her handwritten letters of apology, which she read at a televised press conference. The attackers did not attend, and she did not reveal their names or ranks, saying that their families were also victims and that she did not want them to suffer.
When the men met with her, “I was a little scared, but I kept my spirits up and stood face to face with them, because accepting the apology personally was one of my goals after seeing the truth being denied,” she said.
Gonoi filed a sexual harassment complaint with the Ministry of Defense last year, saying she suffered multiple assaults by male colleagues. In one incident, several senior male colleagues pressed their lower bodies against her in a dormitory at the training ground in August 2021, forcing her to spread her legs, while more than 10 other male colleagues looked on and laughed, but no one tried to stop her them, she said.
She said the investigation into her case was improperly conducted and that local prosecutors dropped it in May. A month later, she resigned from the army and published her allegations on social networks.
In August, Gonoi submitted a petition signed by more than 100,000 people to the Ministry of Defense asking for a third-party reinvestigation of her allegations.
She also stated that she received information about dozens of other members of the army who were mistreated on duty, as well as from parents who are concerned about the safety of their daughters in the army.
In a rare acknowledgment of sexual harassment in the military, Army Chief Yoshihide Yoshida apologized to Gonoi in September.
Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada also ordered a ministry-wide sexual assault investigation following her allegations.
The ministry said that complaints of various types of harassment have increased almost 10 times over the past five years.
He sent investigators to the regional military division that oversaw the unit where Gonoi served. They found more victims in other cases and are expected to release their final report within weeks.
In a country where gender inequality remains high, sexual harassment is often overlooked, and the #MeToo movement has been slow to catch on. But Japanese women have slowly begun to speak out, although many still suffer in silence.
Gonoi said she came forward because she wanted to help others who can’t speak up, and she’s happy to help the Department of Defense create an environment where there’s less harassment and victims don’t have to give up their careers.
Despite the men’s apologies, “the scars I suffered will stay with me for the rest of my life,” she said. “Now I want to reclaim my life, not as a victim, but as someone who can make other people laugh and who can do something for others.”