Tokyo Report | Society | East Asia

Japan Domestic Violence Fears Rise Amid Coronavirus Pandemic

As stay-at-home appeals start to take effect in Japan, alarms have been raised over a growing worldwide trend in domestic abuse cases.

Thisanka Siripala
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Japan Domestic Violence Fears Rise Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
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Under Japan’s nationwide state of emergency, stay-at-home orders have brought nightlife and shop-front commerce to a standstill in Tokyo. Now long-term confinement and financial strain are raising fears that current conditions could lead to a rise in domestic abuse.

Earlier this month, a woman in Tokyo suffered head injuries at the hands of her husband in a domestic dispute involving a fall in income due to COVID-19. She later died in the hospital. A 59-year-old salaryman was arrested after confessing to the physical altercation.

Following the abrupt nationwide school closures and the slow launch of teleworking to slow coronavirus infections, staying at home no longer appears to be the safest option for many. Behind closed doors, households are under increasing stress in a new living environment that now doubles as an office for teleworking adults as well as a child care center, playground, and school.

Unlike large family homes in the West, Tokyo is a concrete metropolis of high-rise apartments. As of 2017, Tokyo’s population density per square kilometer was a whopping 6,349 (or 16,440 people per square mile). That means personal space inside or outside is hard to come by. In Japan, middle class apartments are commonly referred to as “mansions” but in reality they are cramped family apartments. With whole families now stuck indoors 24/7, there’s no escape.

UN Women issued a statement on April 6 calling on governments to provide emergency measures to protect women by arranging shelters, help lines, online consultations, and mental health support. They warn that while the world waits at home, a hidden pandemic of violence against women is increasing. UN data highlighted that since worldwide lockdowns took effect, cases of domestic violence have surged in France, Cyprus, and Singapore by 30 percent. In the U.K., calls to the domestic abuse hotline likewise jumped 25 percent during lockdown.

The All Japan Women’s Shelter Network predicts a worsening situation in Japan. The victim-support NGO explained to NHK that as people lose their jobs or lose income they can become abusive even without having shown any violence in the past. On March 31, a formal request for countermeasures was submitted to the Ministry of Health calling on domestic violence support centers to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic. They also highlighted the need for temporary protection measures that can become effective immediately for victims who have fled to shelters during the hectic coronavirus period. The group told NHK that it has become more difficult to offer direct support to victims given the current pressures to stay at home and new strategies are needed to help reach out to victims.

Tsushima Ruriko Women’s Life Clinic is a medical and domestic violence consultation service with three branches in Tokyo. But its most central Shinjuku clinic, strategically located within a department store, has been forced to temporarily shut in response to intensifying stay-at-home orders. The Shinjuku branch has built a reputation for its reservation-free and extended services in line with the department store’s retail hours. It also doubles as a sexual violence relief center in coordination with the police, providing rape test kits and emergency contraception.

In response to growing criticism, the minister for promoting women’s active participation announced new contact points will be set up to help victims of domestic violence. Consultation services have been expanded to 24 hours a day and will be offered via email, text, and SMS. The new service will coordinate with nongovernmental support groups and if needed will offer protections such as police and hospital services to support organizations. The service will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. as of April 20, but will be fully functional from April 29, with English, Chinese, and eight other language options available the following month.