Sexual Violence in the Wake of the 1995 Kobe Earthquake (article by Kyoko Kitazawa)

Kyoko Kitazawa, a leader in the field of sex education in Japan, speaks about the forms of sexual violence that occurred after the Kobe earthquake in her article, “10 Years Later: There are Many Things I Want to Say!” (press the "もっと読む" button below to see the translation) While the perpetrator is always 100% responsible for committing acts of violence, there are nonetheless important lessons in regard to shelter layout and failures in victim assistance, which we need to apply immediately to our approaches to the present crisis. Let’s raise our voices against these issues together!

“10 Years Later: There are Many Things I Want to Say!”
Kyoko Kitazawa, Representative of the Sei to Kataru Kai, a group to discuss issues surrounding sex

It’s been 10 years since the Great Hanshin Earthquake took place on January 17, 1995. I’ve received numerous requests for comments from newspapers during this time, and I’ll try to summarize these here.

After the earthquake, there were cases of rape – in the darkness of ruined buildings, at evacuation centers, and on school campuses. And yet, these incidents have never been reported on, and they’ve been ignored as a social issue.

Just recently, we’ve seen a string of natural disasters, such as the Niigata earthquake (October 23, 2004) and the Sumatra earthquake (December 26, 2004), which led to the giant tsunami in the Indian Ocean. There were so many cases of children orphaned by the tsunami becoming victims of human trafficking, that a registration system for children is said to have been specially set up in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, and India.

In disasters such as these, the most vulnerable people are always children, the elderly, women, people with disabilities, and members of social disadvantaged groups, like foreign laborers.

What I Saw and Heard at the Evacuation Centers

10 years ago, I traveled around Kobe, Amagasaki, and Nishinomiya to make the rounds at the school gyms that were being used as evacuation centers. Through film screenings and workshops, I spoke with disaster victims about interpersonal relations and – especially – about sexual abuse at the centers.

In April, there were still as many as 51,000 people across the Kobe and Osaka region who had no choice but to live their daily lives in these evacuation centers. While families would create cardboard partitions, there was really no way of maintaining privacy in these gyms. There were many people who had nothing to do but lay in their futons all day and wait… Under these types of circumstances, the forms of sexual violence that I describe below happened countless times.

  • At the gyms used as evacuation centers: with few adults being able to go to work during the day, there were frequent cases of incidents in which infants and young children had their genitals touched or exposed
  • Gym lights were kept on all night long to prevent men from molesting sleeping girls as they passed on their way to the bathroom
  • Mothers abusing their children following heavy stress from life in the centers, from the burdens of single parent childcare as the father works, or from issues with other people in the center
  • Young mothers being raped by intruders, or injured by violence from staff patrolling the grounds
  • Psychological stress: painful or unpleasant sex because of menstrual irregularities, amenorrhea (absence of menstrual bleeding), and/or abdominal pain. There were also cases of women abused by their husbands returning to their destroyed homes and committing suicide
  • The rape of a female university student volunteer after she was dragged to a partially destroyed home by her backpack
  • A case in which female university student volunteers were brought to a partially destroyed building under the pretext of being able to take a bath, and gang raped

When incidents such as these were reported to the police, “no damage reports were filed.” In other cases in which reports were filed, “the victim was blamed,” with the implication that they had allowed it to happen. Even in cases in which discretion was used in reporting, it was suggested that the incident would “counter the image of reconstruction.” And so, these victims who had already suffered multiple misfortunes were ignored.

And then, from April to June, the women who had been raped in the months from January to March had abortions.

Why does rape happen? Writing down these memories from 10 years ago, I get mad all over again.