Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Broadcast: 31/05/2004

Top Japanese university battles rape allegations

Reporter: Mark Simkin

KERRY O'BRIEN: In recent years, Australia has been shocked by a string of high-profile gang rape cases. Some of the allegations, such as those involving high-profile footballers, haven't made it to court. Japan, traditionally one of the world's safest countries, is also confronting a similar issue. But it's not a football culture they're dealing with, but the heart of high learning. Today, a 22-year-old was found guilty of helping arrange the gang rape of a young university student. The man belonged to Super Free, an organisation now known as the 'rape club'. The issue usually gets limited attention in Japan. Last year, a 17-year-old schoolboy admitted raping 31 women, but the case hardly rated a mention in most newspapers. The Super Free case, though, has been receiving heavy coverage, turning a spotlight on the way women are treated and depicted by Japanese society. And as the ABC's Tokyo correspondent Mark Simkin reports, shocking details and video footage are beginning to emerge of the rape club's inner workings.

MARK SIMKIN: For more than 120 years, Waseda University has been a place of higher learning, a finishing school for Japan's elite. It's produced six prime ministers, hundreds of company presidents, but now Waseda has also produced a scandal that has shocked Japan and terrified the university's female students. Dozens of Waseda students, some seen here, formed a social club called 'Super Free', an organisation that revolved around meticulously planning and regularly executing gang rape.

KYOKO OGURA, LAWYER: I wasn't surprised. I think these things occur very often. But it's just that many people are not aware of it because the victim don't report.

MARK SIMKIN: Super Free would organise massive parties. Glossy brochures encouraged young women to come along. The flyers targeted students from smaller out-of-town universities, urging them to meet men from an elite one. Ryuichi Daigo has been investigating the rape club story since it broke, and what he's discovered is shocking.

RYUICHI DAIGO, JOURNALIST (TRANSLATION): Because those girls longed for the city life, they were willing to believe anything. They thought skolling drinks was the Tokyo style. It's come out in court that some of the women actually consented to be gang raped. They voluntarily submitted their bodies. Some later became girlfriends of Super Free members.

MARK SIMKIN: The ABC has obtained extraordinary video footage that shows what happened after the parties began. The women outnumber the men 20 to 1. Proceedings are carefully orchestrated. Some of the techniques are similar to those used by cults. The charismatic Super Free members certainly behave like gods, whipping the crowds into a frenzy.

RYUICHI DAIGO (TRANSLATION): It's often said that Japanese people cannot do anything alone but, instead, have a group mentality. This is an extreme example of that. The parties are like some kind of cult or new religion.

MARK SIMKIN: The rape club made huge profits, which were distributed to the members. It had a pyramid structure and this was the man at the top - Shinichiro Wada, the alleged mastermind.

SHINICHIRO WADA, 'SUPER FREE' LEADER (TRANSLATION): Super Free's dream campus is hot and terrific - it's true!

MARK SIMKIN: After the party had been going for a few hours, selected women would be invited to a separate VIP function at a nearby restaurant. The aim here was to get the potential victims as drunk as possible.

RYUICHI DAIGO (TRANSLATION): They would play drinking games that were rigged to ensure the girl had to skol. The drinks would be spiked with a type of vodka that's 96 per cent alcohol, but tasteless and odourless. Wada once said whoever invented the drink would be given a Nobel Prize.

MARK SIMKIN: As the women got drunk, one would be chosen and taken to a toilet. Members of Super Free would stand in line to rape her. Often, one club member would take a photo to embarrass the student into staying silent, while another would be given the task of stopping her from going to the police.

RYUICHI DAIGO (TRANSLATION): The member who was particularly good at calming down women was Mr Kishimoto, the number two man in the club. He was called 'Kisi The Bomb De-fuser'. Altogether, about 100 women were raped. Around 50 men were involved. Some of the men prosecuted have said they only raped once or twice. One said he did it 15 times.

MARK SIMKIN: 14 men have been put on trial. Today, the Tokyo District Court found one of the club members guilty of helping arrange the gang rape of a 20-year-old. Toshiyuki Numazaki was sentenced to two years and 10 months in jail. Prosecutors believe it's very difficult to get a rape conviction in Japan and, when there is one, the jail term is usually relatively short. In fact, according to the law, the maximum sentence for rape is 15 years - the minimum, just two years. The minimum term for burglary is more than double that. Kyoko Ogura is a lawyer who represented scores of rape victims.

KYOKO OGURA: Our law says protection of personal property is more important than protection of women's sexual freedom. I think it's absurd.

MARK SIMKIN: A growing number of people want the law changed. These men and women are all students of Waseda, members of a very different organisation to Super Free -- the Gender Studies Club. As far as they are concerned, the rape scandal is not just about a few men behaving very badly, but reflects the way women are treated and depicted.

ASAMI SAWADA, WASEDA UNIVERSITY STUDENT (TRANSLATION): Since the old days, Japanese men have had a traditional role. If he dominates women, he's regarded as a real man. The Super Free case is the tip of the iceberg.

REIKO SAIGO, WASEDA UNIVERSITY STUDENT (TRANSLATION): Indecent Manga comics and adult videos are influencing sex crimes. There is very little sex education in Japanese school, so people get a lot of information from popular culture. It dulls their awareness of what constitutes a crime.

MARK SIMKIN: Around 1.5 billion Manga comics are sold each year. Many are sexually explicit. Quite a few feature heroes who have forced sex with women. This movie, 'Rapeman', is based on a comic created in the '90s that's still popular today. Keisuke Uasake is a schoolteacher by day, Japanese superhero by night. He rapes women who have wronged, broken up with boyfriends, or swindled someone out of money. Often the woman ends up falling in love with the Rapeman. She's certainly not presented as a victim.

FEMALE CHARACTER TO RAPE VICTIM IN 'RAPEMAN' (TRANSLATION): I'm not giving you any sympathy. You can't go on as a woman if you get discouraged by this sort of thing.

SHINTARO MIYAWAKI, ARTIST (TRANSLATION): Ever since we were defeated in World War II, Japanese men have not been able to recover. They have got weaker, while women have become stronger. Men have developed an inferiority complex. That's why they like to read 'Rapeman'.

MARK SIMKIN: Other members of Super Free are yet to receive a verdict, including the alleged ringleader. Their cases will only further the debate about Japan's treatment of women, rape and sexuality.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Mark Simkin reporting from Tokyo.