Media watch: Media take a more clinical look at sex crimes

Tokyo District Court

Last month, a man named Akinori Hashimoto was sentenced by the Tokyo District Court to 20 years in prison for sexually abusing and photographing 20 boys between the ages of 5 and 11 from 2015 to 2020. Hashimoto, an accredited pre-school teacher, had committed these crimes in homes to which he was dispateched as a babysitter, at a campsite in Yamanashi Prefecture where he was a volunteer, and at a children’s welfare facility where he was a staff employee. The charges included 22 cases of rape, 14 cases of sexual assault, and 20 cases of producing child pornography. 

Generally, media stories about the sexual abuse of children, especially when both the perpetrator and the victim are male, tend to be treated in a cursory manner by the mainstream media. Most reports about the trial did not go into detail about testimony given, but only relayed the results and the judge’s reasons for the verdict and sentence. Asahi Shimbun, however, went fairly deep in its Aug. 31 article on the trial, especially with regard to Hashimoto’s motivations and psychology. 

In court starting in June, Hashimoto testified about his childhood, saying that his mother was a violent alcoholic who constantly told him she wished he’d never been born. When Hashimoto was 8, she ran away with the owner of a bar where she worked and when he was 12 she died of a stroke. His father beat him on occasion and he was a constant target of bullying throughout elementary and junior high school. Eventually, he dropped out. 

Hashimoto’s own explanation for his abuse of young boys was his sense of inadequacy. He yearned for his parents’ approval and love but only received resentment. Eventually, he started looking to the affections of children as he assumed that they had no capacity to discriminate against him. Whenever he was around young boys, he said he felt “safe.” 

A social worker whose job is to prevent recidivism of sex offenders testified that Hashimoto’s abuse of children was a direct response to his own abuse as a child. The social worker elaborated on this point, saying that many pedophiles are the products of households dominated by alcohol and brutal parenting methods. As a result, when they become adults themselves their attention is drawn to weaker individuals. Hashimoto always believed that his victims were also interested in sexual pleasure, despite their ages, so when he touched them inappropriately and they responded in what he perceived to be an “excited” manner, he believed they were enjoying the encounter. 

The social worker, who continues working with Hashimoto to help him understand how his behavior has affected his victims, told the court that Hashimoto should be placed in a situation where he can share his experiences with others who may have the same impulses, presumably as a preventative measure. However, lawyers who represented victims’ families read statements describing how the victims were scarred for life—one still has trouble sleeping at night, while another who was molested at a campsite when he was 7 has said that he can never visit a campsite again. The parents of these children said later that they understood Hashimoto’s tragic background, but that it was no excuse for his subsequent behavior, and thus demanded the severest punishment. 

In handing down the sentence, the judge said that Hashimoto’s crime was particularly heinous because he carried out abuse from a position of trust. Also, the sheer number of victims called for the harshest penalty, so, taking into consideration Hashimoto’s remorse, he sentenced him to 20 years in prison rather than the 25 requested by the prosecution. 

This more clinical approach to sex crimes was also evident in an Aug. 16 article in Gendai Business about treatment for pedophilia, which centered on a convicted sex criminal named Takeshi Kato. The story that the 59-year-old Kato told Gendai was similar to Hashimoto’s, except that he was born into a fairly well-to-do family. Unlike Hashimoto, Kato’s parents simply ignore him, but he was bullied at school, which compelled him to drop out. Eventually, he did attend university but got poor grades and always felt alone. He ended up a recluse in his parents’ home. Left to his own devices, he became addicted to child pornography, especially comics depicting sex between older men and children. Eventually, he went to work for a relative, but quit after a while and tried to get by on part time jobs. As his personal life became more precarious he was “more aggressive” about his “attraction to children.” Sexually abusing them was his means of “relieving frustration.” This feeling manifested itself in the molestation of a junior high school boy he tutored, exposing himself to young boys on the street, and traveling overseas to purchase the services of underage male prostitutes. He even volunteered to work in a facility for mentally disabled adolescents. One day, he picked up a boy at game arcade and brought him to a public toilet where he threatened him with a box cutter if he didn’t let him touch him, but the boy’s pleas convinced him to let him go. Flushed with regret, he immediately went to the police and turned himself in. He was later convicted of attempted rape and sentenced to 2 years in prison suspended for 4 years of close observation.

The rest of the article focuses on the programs that Kato went through as he fulfilled his treatment protocols as ordered by the court. Though now there are dedicated programs to prevent recidivism for sexual offenders, at the time there were none, so Kato was forced to find treatment on his own. Most of it was limited to simple self-denial: masturbation was forbidden because it gave rise to sexual fantasies, which led to even more stress. After a while he met other offenders and their main means of self-control was to just avoid contact with children altogether. 

In any case, he has not re-offended in 21 years, and continues to attend Al-Anon type meetings where persons like him talk about their daily struggles. He says that just talking about these things helps to relieve stress, but he still has trouble holding down a full-time job. Another way of coping with his problems is to become the face of pedophilia. He appears often in the media as a spokesperson for treating sex offenders, a position that ten years ago would have been unheard of. 

Asahi Shimbun also ran a fairly detailed piece on Sept. 2 about another trial of a sex offense. The victim in this case was 45-year-old lawyer Chieko Aoki, who, in Oct. 2020, was riding a crowded northbound Saikyo Line train during the evening rush when she felt hands touching her backside and realized they belonged to more than one person. One hand went further, reaching under her skirt and pulling down her underwear. She tried to push off the hands but was unable and the groping continued for the next 5 minutes until the train pulled into Akabane Station, where she got off and grabbed the man who had reached up her skirt. She loudly accused him of molesting her. Grabbing the strap of her bag, which was around her shoulder, her pulled her down and then ran away, but two men on the platform chased him all the way past the wickets. The man was captured by police as he ran out of the station. Aoki sustained injuries in the fall which took three weeks to heal.

Ironically, Aoki had been on her way to see other victims of sexual assault in her capacity as a lawyer. In fact, she became an attorney for just that reason, having been raped 15 years earlier. She wanted to dedicate her life to getting justice for sexual assault victims, and now, once again, she herself was a victim. Following her recovery, however, she still felt severely traumatized by the attack and took time off from her part-time teaching job. 

Prosecutors carried out an investigation in order to determine whether to indict the man captured by the police and questioned Aoki, asking why she didn’t run away or speak up on the train. Though Aoki initially felt as if she were being victimized a second time, she understood, as a lawyer, that they had to be thorough in order to make an airtight case against the suspect. Unfortunately, before the trial actually took place, the head prosecutor for her case was replaced by someone who preferred to charge the man with simple annoyance resulting in injury rather than sexual assault, a minor crime that only entailed a nominal fine. Aoki fell into a depression: This, she thought, is how the Japanese legal system works. When she informed her employer that she was seriously thinking of giving up her legal career, he filed a formal protest with the prosecutors’ office. The head prosecutor was replaced again.

The trial started 14 months following the incident. The defendant was a 43-year-old company employee, who testified in court that when he noticed other men touching Aoki he assumed it was OK to do so himself as long as the person touched didn’t say anything. Aoki testified that she was treated like an object rather than a human being, and that she would never live down the humiliation. The defendant was found guilty and sentenced to two years 6 months in prison suspended for 4 years. 

Following the trial, Aoki gave a press conference, which is unusual. Normally, victims of groping, even those who win their cases, stay hidden and anonymous. She insisted on making her story known because she wanted the public to understand why women will not speak up while being attacked. Sometimes the shock and fear of the moment is too much. 

Sankei Shimbun also covered the case, but from the perpetrator’s point of view. The newspaper summarized the incident in much the same way that Asahi had, but followed it with the defendant’s experience during the trial. As in the Asahi recount, the defendant testified that when he noticed other men touching the woman, he couldn’t help himself and touched her as well. However, when the doors opened and she started accusing him, he panicked and ran. The article said nothing about Aoki’s injuries. 

The gist of the Sankei article is how the crime and its aftermath affected the perpetrator’s family. One aspect of the case that Asahi did not mention is that the family, through arbitration, was told to pay Aoki ¥5.2 million in compensation. The family did not have that much money and had to borrow it from the perpetrator’s father. Also, his wife testified in court, admitting that she herself had been groped on trains in the past, and that she couldn’t forgive her husband for what he did. She had considered divorce, but he was a good father and decided it would be better to support him. 

Since the incident, the man tries not to take trains by himself, and his phone has a tracking app so that his family can always monitor his location when he is out of the house. He told Sankei that no matter how many times he expresses remorse for what he did, he will never be able to go back to the life he had before the groping incident. He apologized to Aoki face-to-face. 

Aoki said during the press conference that she believes her attacker is sincere in his remorse, and called his family secondary victims. That’s why she wants the public to know just how destructive sexual assault can be. 

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