Sexual abuse: The struggle to speak out

Findings from an independent inquiry suggesting that music mogul Johnny Kitagawa sexually abused hundreds of boys over a period spanning decades have Japan reflecting on why people looked away. They’re also shining a light on why abuse victims typically suffer in silence.

Sato Yukiko was just 4 years old when the abuse started. It went on for six years and involved several relatives. She was 30 before she could talk about it. And when she finally did speak out, a new kind of trauma began.

"People didn't believe me ... that was the most painful thing," she says. "I was put in a situation where there was no one who believed in me, and every time, I learned that this was something I shouldn't talk about."

For victims of abuse, the psychological scars remain long after a sexual predator has left the scene. And it can be even more damaging if they don't feel able to talk about it. Faced with a social taboo on the issue, they find it difficult to come forward — even more so if they are male.

Sato Yukiko speaking to NHK

The scandal surrounding the late founder of talent agency Johnny Associates suggests many men are suffering alone. A report looking into Johnny Kitagawa concluded he sexually abused boys for at least 40 years. And no one at the company did anything about it, despite persistent rumors of his activities.

*Related article: Probe finds Johnny & Associates founder sexually abused boys over decades (Aug. 30, 2023)

Dr. Yamada Hiroshi is the head of the Nagomi: Sexual Violence Crisis Center in Nagoya City

Yamada Hiroshi, a doctor at Nagomi: Sexual Violence Crisis Center in Nagoya City works with victims of sexual abuse. He explains why men find it especially difficult to speak out.

"The preconception, which we have to change, is that men are strong and don't suffer such damage, and that they can solve the problem by themselves or fight against it, no matter what happens."

The numbers bear that out. Of all the sexual abuse consultations at the center between 2016 and 2023, only about 6 percent were male.

Survey conducted by Nagomi: Sexual Violence Crisis Center

It was 20 years before Sato Yukiko was able to talk about what happened to her. She thinks the Johnny's scandal will motivate other victims to come forward. At the same time, she believes it is also important to tackle the complacent attitudes that made these attacks possible.

"I think it's time to put an end to protecting the perpetrators, protecting the absolute power, and not listening to the voices of the victims." she says.

"It's time for society as a whole to change."

Watch video 2:38