Every Third Woman

Every Third Woman

The Prevalence of Domestic Violence in Japan


Legal Deficiencies and Where to Seek Support

I have spent the last few weeks attempting to put together a PowerPoint presentation for a Prevention of Domestic Violence Event. I have been invited as a guest speaker to share my experiences in a lecture and I am beyond honored. 

But my slides are still, mostly blank. 

I struggle between selecting a black or pink-colored background. Pink is my favorite color but I am worried it will undermine my entire speech and dilute the gravity of my words. Black is simple and bold and easy to look at but it might be boring and I’m concerned it will cause the audience to lose interest and look away from the screen. 

I’m not entirely sure if I should decorate the slides with images or some kind of illustration. It would punctuate my story with visual impact but I don’t even know what graphic would be fitting for this kind of content. A shattered plate for dramatic effect, perhaps. A cartoon drawing of a broken heart, maybe. A screenshot of his last text would undoubtedly be eye-catching.

Most importantly, I do not know how much of my story to tell—how much detail I should include. Should I list every object thrown? Name every name he called me? Dive into my struggles with sleep? Or would too much detail create discomfort and prompt listeners to leave?

It feels trivial for me to ruminate about these simple, wildly unimportant, factors. It pains me to think that I must strategize how best to capture people’s attention when the gravity of this issue should command it automatically. None of these things should matter—pink or black, the inclusion of images, the depth of detail. 

Not when it happens to so many women all over the globe. Almost one in three women have been subjected to physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence, non-partner sexual violence, or both at least once in their lives (UN Women, 2023). In 2020, the Gender Equality Bureau of the Cabinet Office of Japan found that one in four women aged over 20 had experienced domestic violence from a spouse. 

Yet, it’s apparent that this statistic alone isn’t enough to prompt society to change. So here I am, contemplating the best approach to ensure my voice is heard.

Recent Legal Revisions 

In May 2023, the Japanese Diet passed a revised domestic violence prevention law (“Act on the Prevention of Spousal Violence and the Protection of Victims”) which went into effect April 2024. 

The revised law marks a departure from its original version, which limited protection orders to individuals who had already experienced physical violence and faced an imminent threat to their life or body. Now, it extends to those facing serious mental harm—a crucial expansion given that 60% of domestic violence consultations to the Cabinet Office’s support hotlines involve mental abuse. 

Moreover, the duration of protection orders has been extended from six months to one year, and stricter penalties have been imposed on those who violate protection orders. Originally punishable by imprisonment of up to one year and a fine of up to one million yen, violators now face up to two years in prison and fines of up to two million yen. 

While at prima facie these amendments represent progress and a step in the right direction, there remain significant ongoing issues within the legal framework. 

The legal definition of domestic violence still fails to include all forms of abuse such as financial abuse, spiritual abuse, denial of basic needs, abuse using children and cyber abuse. This limited scope may result in victims, perpetrators and those around them, to struggle to recognize non-physical forms of abuse, enabling equally damaging forms of violence to transpire. 

The Act’s definition simultaneously fails to include other forms of relationships—which are not spousal or de facto relationships—ultimately failing to protect victims suffering violence from an intimate partner, familial or caretaker relationship.

The now one-year-long protection orders remain far too short a time to truly protect victims. It does not allow enough time for victims to rebuild their lives. Additionally, renewing an order is time-consuming, stressful and re-traumatizing.

The complexity of legal procedures can be daunting for victims—especially for those who are unfamiliar with the legal system. Complicated legal procedures, insufficient access to legal representation, and the burden of proof requirements can deter victims from pursuing justice and seeking the protection they deserve. The high evidentiary standard placed on victims may deter victims from seeking justice. Moreover, even when victims do seek help, they are confronted with a myriad of obstacles and barriers within the legal system. In 2022, it was found that 47,971 consultations were made to the national DV Plus hotline, but only 5,158 of them were reported to authorities.

Beyond the legal realm, the pervasive culture of silencing victims exacerbates the challenges faced by survivors of domestic violence in Japan. Social stigma, fear of retaliation from perpetrators, and

societal expectations of maintaining family harmony often prevent victims from speaking out and seeking help. 

Acknowledging that men can also suffer from domestic violence is crucial, yet the pervasive social stigma surrounding male victims often hinders their ability to seek help. With limited support services and very few shelters available for males, it’s evident that there is an urgent need for a more inclusive and comprehensive approach to addressing domestic violence. 

Some female-only shelters have age restrictions for male children, preventing some women and their children from seeking refuge there. Ending violence and abuse against all individuals is imperative, underscoring the necessity of fostering a society where survivors feel empowered to seek help free from judgment or retaliation. 

Resources and Seeking Help

While leaving an abusive relationship may seem like a straightforward solution, the reality is often much more difficult. In fact, those suffering from abuse return to their violent partners an average of seven times before they leave for good. 

While it may be deeply frustrating and confusing as to why one may continue to go back to abusive partners, it’s crucial to remember that domestic violence is complex and manipulation and control can run deep, making it immensely difficult for people to break free from the cycle of abuse. 

On top of this, leaving a relationship is not always the safest option and often becomes the most dangerous time. Leaving a relationship can also be challenging due to additional factors such as family dynamics, children, custody rights, financial reliance, employment status, access to legal support and language and cultural barriers. It is never a simple decision.

Watching a friend, family member, colleague or loved one suffer in an abusive relationship can be distressing and oftentimes, it may be difficult to know the right thing to say. TELL Japan is an NPO that was established in Japan in 1973 and has since provided effective support and counseling services to Japan’s international community.In an interview with their Lifeline director, Vickie Skorji, and Lifeline staff, Electra Vasileiadou and Laurel Pegler, advised that it is essential to offer unwavering support and understanding to those in an abusive relationshipReassuring them that they are not alone and that help is available is essential. 

“You may have pushback from the person experiencing abuse but it is important to let them know that there is no world where they deserve abuse,” Electra stated.

“Often, people experiencing abuse have had their confidence shattered and telling them to be confident and strong and to leave their partners is a big ask,” Vickie explained. “Instead, you could tell them that what is going down is not a reflection of them, but a reflection of the abuser.”

It is also vital to acknowledge that domestic violence is not always physical. Vickie stated that, “People have the tendency to think that domestic violence is violent. People have pre conceptualized notions of domestic violence, for example, if you don’t have any wounds, it’s not that bad. But there are many ways a person can be abused. Domestic violence isn’t always what you think it is or who you think it’ll be.” 

In Japan, individuals experiencing abuse can seek help from women’s consulting offices, ward offices, police, or the Spousal Violence Counseling and Support Centers located in every prefecture. 

Outside of immediate emergencies, Laurel commented that, “The best option is to go to the 生活安全課 (seikatsu anzenka; community support department) as this department will have officers trained to support people in abusive situations.”  

Additionally, individuals can contact the helplines and support organizations listed below, which provide support in multiple languages, ensuring that the help they need is accessible in a way that feels safe and comfortable. . 

TELL Japan: 

Phone: 03-5774-0992 

Chat: telljp.com/lifeline

Domestic Violence Hotline Plus (Cabinet Office):

 Talk to a professional about various types of spouse or partner abuse. 

Phone: 01-2027-9889 

E-mail consultations(available 24 hours) 

Chat (available in 10 languages): soudanplus.jp/en/index.html 

Domestic Violence Counseling Navi: 

For those who do not know where to contact when they are suffering from abuse.

Call #8008 to be connected to your nearest local organization.

Dating Violence 110:

A consultation service where you can consult about any kind of dating abuse. 

Phone: 05-3204-0404

Chat: ddv110.org/

Yorisoi Hotline: 

A consultation service for problems about visa, family, work, everyday living, discrimination, domestic violence, human trafficking and any other problems. Besides Japanese, services are also available in English, Tagalog, Korean, Chinese, Spanish, Portuguese, Thai, Vietnamese, Nepali and Indonesian. 

Phone: 01-2027-9338 

Chat:  since2011.net/yorisoi/en/

There is no one-size-fits-all solution and the road to healing from abuse is multifaceted,requiring patience, support and access to resources. Counseling and therapy can serve as guiding lights, playing a vital role in rebuilding self-esteem and regaining a sense of control. As Vickie so poignantly expressed, “You are more than your abuser, and you have a future beyond them.”

Check out our other article: Feminism in Japan