TOKYO -- A former Japanese soldier who reported being sexually abused by military colleagues said Monday she has filed a damage suit against five perpetrators and the government because she feels their earlier apologies were empty.
Rina Gonoi went public with her experience last year, demanding the Defense Ministry reinvestigate her case, in which she said she was repeatedly assaulted by several servicemen, causing her to give up her military career. The military had dropped her case when she initially filed a complaint in 2021, saying there was insufficient evidence.
Japan’s army in September acknowledged part of the misconduct after an internal probe and apologized. Four of the five perpetrators personally apologized a month later to Gonoi. The ministry in December dismissed the five servicemen and punished four others.
Gonoi said she decided to go to court after feeling that the five perpetrators still took their actions lightly and had stopped responding in their discussions toward a settlement.
She is seeking a total of 5.5 million yen ($42,270) from her assailants for their misconduct and her mental distress, and 2 million yen ($15,370) from the government over its failure to prevent the assaults, properly investigate and take appropriate steps.
“Honestly, I was very reluctant to fight, and I’d rather not choose this option,” Gonoi said. “But the message I got from them was that they still lacked a sense of remorse, and I thought harassment (in the army) can never be eradicated unless I take action.”
Gonoi said she still admires the army and the work it does and wants it to become a place “where all servicemembers, men or women, are treated with respect and a sense of justice.”
Gonoi was first assigned to a Fukushima unit in April 2020 and said she quickly became a target of sexual misconduct. Her male superiors repeatedly asked her breast size or made unnecessary physical contact such as by trying judo techniques on her, Gonoi said.
Then in July 2021 inside a tent at a training ground, she had her breasts touched by male superiors, who also forced her to touch their private parts, she said.
In August 2021, senior male colleagues pressed the lower part of their bodies against her in a dorm and made motions as if having sex, while more than 10 other male colleagues and supervisors watched and laughed, Gonoi said earlier.
After dropping their initial investigation in May, civilian prosecutors are reinvestigating the case after her appeal.
Gonoi said if she had received adequate support from the Defense Ministry, she wouldn't have had to quit her military career, which she said she chose because of the help her family received from army relief workers after a 2011 tsunami in northern Japan.
Sexual misconduct complaints are often disregarded in Japan. Victims also tend to face criticism for speaking up.