A 13-year-old Tokyo girl left alone at home one night ventures out and is raped by a man she doesn’t know. Yomiuri Weekly (May 4) hears the story from hospital nurse Hiroko Mitamura, who -- with reason -- believes the girl was lucky to end up under her care. The fact is, the magazine finds, very few medical and legal professionals know how to deal with rape victims. Mitamura herself didn’t until eight years ago, when she encountered a group called SANE.
It stands for Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner. It originated in Memphis, Tennessee, in 1976 and was introduced into Japan in 2000. Clearly, it’s an organization whose time has come. But to return to the girl.
The police, when she went to them, were unhelpful. “What were you doing out at that hour?” they demanded.
Details of what followed are sketchy, but by the time Mitamura saw her, it was too late to extract the physical evidence that would substantiate assault charges. Another problem was the girl’s mother, who seemed aloof and indifferent. Mitamura knew from a course of SANE lectures what her first task was, and she quickly set about it. “I said to her, ‘You have suffered terribly. But what happened was not your fault.’”
She then proceeded to make arrangements on the girl’s behalf with a children’s welfare facility.
And yet, says Mitamura, “There was a time when I myself wouldn’t have known what to do. I myself would have admonished her for being out in the street at night: ‘Didn’t it occur to you that it’s dangerous?’ Implicitly I would have blamed her.”
Working in a Tokyo hospital emergency ward, she treated numerous rape victims, and the more of them she saw the less certain she grew that her attitude -- the conventional attitude -- was appropriate. When she heard in 2000 that the non-profit organization Women’s Health and Safety Center was sponsoring SANE’s maiden lecture series in Japan, she decided to attend. The program consists of 40 hours of lectures over the course of a year, themes ranging from the physical and mental effects of rape to the special approach required when the victim is a child. Mitamura was one of Japan’s first graduates.
In 2006, says Yomiuri Weekly, there were 1,984 reported rapes nationwide, and an estimated 10 times as many unreported ones. A government survey that same year found 144 of 1578 women surveyed -- 7.2% -- claiming to have at least once submitted against their will to sexual force. The vast majority suffer in silence, with consequences, sometimes lifelong, including insomnia, depression and loss of appetite.
Dr Shizuko Sasaki is director of the Matsushima Hospital in Tokyo’s Edogawa Ward. The Matsushima is Japan’s only 24-hour-a-day hospital for rape victims. Sasaki opened it in 1991, but she’d been thinking about a facility along those lines since 1980, when she assisted a woman suing a hospital for needlessly removing her ovaries. Since then, she says, “I wanted to develop a kind of gynecology based entirely on the female point of view.”
She designed training programs with the aid of a Canadian specialist in problems arising from sexual violence, and was instrumental in bringing SANE to Japan. Beginning in 1998, she got the word out to Tokyo police: the Matsushima never closed; day or night, any rape victims they encountered should be brought there.
Sasaki and another staff member live within five minutes of the hospital, and are perpetually on call. They see 30 rape victims on average a year, offering medical treatment and counseling and giving each patient as much time as she needs. This isn’t likely to become standard nationwide procedure any time soon. But it is a hopeful symbol of progress.© Japan Today