Japan mulls raising national age of consent from 13 to 16

The national age of consent in Japan is 13 — an age that many find surprisingly low.

Japan is mulling raising the age of consent, according to media reports. A justice ministry panel last Friday proposed a major overhaul of sex crime legislation that would include raising the age to 16, along with clarifying rape prosecution requirements and criminalizing voyeurism (strangely, it’s currently not illegal to secretly film someone for sexual purposes).

This is not a new discussion. There are regular calls to raise the age of consent in Japan, which has not changed since 1907. In 2019, a string of rape acquittals has brought the situation back into the public eye and sparked protests.

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One factor in preventing this (or making it a moot point) is that local ordinances are already in place that effectively mean the age of consent in prefectures is always higher — as long as the sex is consensual. Of course, proving or disproving consent is a minefield.

For anyone over 13, they have to persuade police and prosecutors that their rape was not consensual — and that their case can be successfully prosecuted. Japan has a 99% conviction rate, in part because prosecutors are loath to take a case to court if it looks shaky. The law requires proving that rape perpetrators use “violence and intimidation,” which means in practice that victims must resist to a level that satisfies the courts. As is well known, rape survivors may freeze during an assault out of shock or fear of receiving further injury.

Rape sentences are also lighter than other countries, which campaigners hope to change.

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