Japan raises age of consent and redefines rape

Japanese lawmakers raised the age of consent from 13 to 16, marking the first change since 1907 and aligning with global norms

'Flower Demo' protests in Japan has called for stricter sex crime laws. (photo: DW)
'Flower Demo' protests in Japan has called for stricter sex crime laws. (photo: DW)


Lawmakers in Japan on Friday changed legislation to raise the age of consent from 13 — the lowest among developed nations — to 16.

Under the stricter sex crime laws, lawmakers also broadened the definition of rape from "forcible sexual intercourse" to "non-consensual sexual intercourse."

The expanded definition includes acts committed using drugging and intoxication. It also criminalized the grooming of minors.

Other changes include a crackdown on "photo voyeurism," so-called upskirting, filming or photographing under a skirt without consent, and secretly filming sexual acts.

Calls for change

Japan's laws regarding sexual consent drew significant attention in 2019, after a string of defendants charged with sexual crimes were acquitted.

It led to the Flower Demo movement, with groups of sexual violence victims and their supporters gathering once a month to demand changes to sex crime laws.

Japan last revised its criminal code on sexual offenses in 2017, for the first time in more than a century, but campaigners said the reforms were insufficient.

The age of consent — below which sexual activity is considered statutory rape — is 16 in Britain, Canada and most states in the US, while it is 15 in France and 14 in Germany and Italy.

'Non-consensual sexual intercourse'

Another significant criticism of the old law was that it effectively blamed victims for not resisting enough.

Japan has now identified eight scenarios under which rape prosecutions can be made.

These include victims being under the influence of alcohol or drugs, being frightened and perpetrators taking advantage of social status.

In addition, "visitation request offense" — people who use intimidation, seduction or money to coerce children under 16 to meet for sexual purposes — was also criminalized, and perpetrators face a prison sentence of up to a year or a fine of 500,000 yen ($3,500, €3,197).

Over time, the age of consent has been increased by various laws in India. It was 16 from 1940 until 2012, then it was raised to 18 years.

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