The Toronto Star, Saturday, February 19, 2000
By: Eric Prideaux, AP wire service

TOKYO (AP) - Raelyn Campbell had heard about the safety of Tokyo's streets and the efficiency of its police. Soon after coming to Japan, however, she discovered another reality: an expectation that victims of sex crimes remain silent.

Campbell learned this firsthand. And while she is not Japanese, social workers and activists say her case is typical, except that she insisted on justice and is willing to talk about it.

A man followed Campbell to her apartment, threw her against the door and tried to molest her. She fought him off and he was arrested. But when she tried to press charges, police dragged their feet. Then the prosecutors suggested the case be dropped because the attacker had no prior record and was a source of financial support for his parents.

He received a suspended sentence.

'Victims are considered dirty. As women, they are considered worthless' Because of the stigma of sex crimes, even assessing the situation is extremely difficult, says Kiyomi Takahashi, a counsellor for the Japanese Union for Survivors of Trauma.

''Women victims of sex crimes are considered dirty,'' says Takahashi, who was sexually abused as a child. ''As women, they are considered worthless.''

Some 6,124 rapes and sexual assaults were reported in Japan in 1998, the most recent year for which detailed statistics are available. According to police figures for 1997, there were roughly six such crimes for every 100,000 people age 15 or older.

By comparison, there were roughly 200 sexual assaults and rapes reported for every 100,000 people 12 years old or older in the U.S. in 1998.

Supporters of the Japanese justice system say at least part of the statistical gap is due to a genuinely lower rate in Japan. But surveys indicate a high rate of sex-related incidents.

More than 80 per cent of 459 Tokyo women in a recent survey said they had experienced some sort of sexual assault, ranging from sexually oriented verbal abuse to rape. The survey was conducted by Makiko Sasagawa, a counsellor at St. Marianna Medical Institute near Tokyo, and Takako Konishi, a psychiatrist at Tokyo's Musashino Women's University.

Of the various forms of assault, molestation of women on commuter trains may be the most common. Almost 80 per cent of 1,553 women surveyed by the Tokyo government in 1997 said they had been inappropriately touched on a train. The problem is so bad that subway operators have considered making some cars off-limits to male passengers.

But many female victims of sexual assault feel they shouldn't bring police in because it isn't serious enough to make a fuss about, according to a study conducted by John Dussich and Sugao Shinohara at Tokiwa University. Women also feel male police officers won't understand their pain.

However, growing numbers of victims are seeking help through official telephone hotline services. There were 746 calls to the Tokyo municipal police's hotline for crime victims in 1998, more than seven times the number six years earlier.

''Victims once felt they had to swallow their pain,'' says Sasagawa. ''Now many feel psychological recovery is their right.''

COUNSELLORS: Psychiatrist Dr. Takako Konishi, right, works with Akemi Shirai at a university centre in Tokyo that assists victims of sexual assault. Sex crimes often go unreported. Of the various forms of assault, molestation of women on commuter trains may be the most common.