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Japanese journalist wins damages in high-profile lawsuit over alleged rape

Japanese journalist Shiori Ito holds a banner reading "Victory" outside the Tokyo District Court after a court verdict ordered in Tokyo, Japan, in this photo taken by Kyodo December 18, 2019. Mandatory credit Kyodo/via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. JAPAN OUT. NO COMMERCIAL OR EDITORIAL SALES IN

A Japanese court on Wednesday ordered a prominent reporter to pay damages to a female journalist in a civil lawsuit over her allegations he raped her, a verdict welcomed by women’s rights advocates in a country where sexual assault victims often stay silent.

The Tokyo court ordered television journalist Noriyuki Yamaguchi to pay 3.3 million yen ($30,375) in damages to Shiori Ito, a freelance journalist who has become a well-known face of Japan’s #MeToo movement.

Ito, 30, had sought 11 million yen in damages for her suffering after prosecutors declined to indict Yamaguchi following her complaint to police that he had raped her while she was unconscious.

The court also ruled against a counter-suit by Yamaguchi, who has repeatedly denied the allegations, in which he sought 130 million yen in damages from Ito.

Yamaguchi told a news conference that he would appeal the verdict, saying he had done nothing illegal.

Ito made waves in 2017 when she took the rare step of going public with allegations that Yamaguchi, a senior television reporter known for his reporting on Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, had raped her in 2015 after she met him for drinks to discuss an offer to help her find a job.

The court said in a summary of the verdict that the credibility of Ito’s account, in which she said she was forced to have sex while unconscious and despite resisting after she regained consciousness, was relatively high.

It also said there were grave doubts about the credibility of Yamaguchi’s statements, in which he said the sex was consensual.

Ito fought back tears as she spoke through a megaphone to reporters and supporters outside the court, saying she felt “full of gratitude.”

“I’m so happy,” she said, her voice breaking at times with emotion. “It’s not over. Now, I have to deal with how I live with my scars.”

In awarding the damages, the court said that Ito still suffered flashbacks and panic attacks as a result.

The court also said Ito’s decision to go public was intended to be in the public interest and did not violate Yamaguchi’s privacy.

Sexual assault victims in Japan often shy away from reporting incidents to police or even telling friends, government data shows, for fear of being blamed and humiliated.

Women’s rights activist Minori Kitahara said she was hopeful the verdict signalled attitudes were changing in Japan.

“I think that the voices of victims affected the ruling,” Kitahara told Reuters. “I am hopeful if people speak out, things will change.”

Ito suggested in her book “Black Box” that she might have been given a “date rape” drug but that she had no way to know.

Yamaguchi wrote in a magazine article in 2017 that he had “neither seen nor heard of the date rape drugs” Ito mentioned and that she had been “overconfident about the amount of alcohol and drank too much”.

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