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Sexual assault victim ordered to pay abuser’s wife damages in twisted court case

A Japanese court has ordered a woman to pay damages to the wife of the man she accused of sexual assault since their relationship may have breached the country’s civil code. 

Meiko Sano filed a lawsuit against her professor for sexual assault after ending a decade-long relationship with him. Sano argued that Michio Hayashi, an art history professor of the Department of Liberal Arts at Sophia University, had taken advantage of their dynamic to initiate a relationship to which she never consented.

When the relationship began, Sano was 23 and Hayashi was 48, and she accused him of grooming her for sex. Their relationship started out purely academic, but it soon blurred as he invited her to more private meetings, which Sano said she felt unable to refuse. 

Sano even accompanied Hayashi on a trip to a symposium, where she performed a sexual act that she argued was forced and he claimed was consensual. They continued to meet up at hotels for the following 10 years for sex, along with trips to France, Italy and Spain, before Sano eventually broke off the relationship and filed her lawsuit. 

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Sano said that she thought of ending things many times, but she felt obliged and grateful to Hayashi, and at times worried that it would be rude to refuse him.

“I understand that I was way too naïve, and I still hate myself for it,” Sano said. “There were so many times when I could have just said, ‘No,’ and run away.”

Sophia University in Tokyo

Sophia University in Tokyo. (Google Maps)

In a twist, Hayashi’s wife sued Sano for the relationship since Japan’s civil code counts marital infidelity as a breach of the marriage contract. The wife won around $20,000 in damages, The New York Times reported. 

Sano lost her case but won some minor damages to help pay for her own penalty to Hayashi’s wife. In subsequent interviews, she claimed that she knew her lawsuit had little chance of succeeding, but she had a desire to show the psychological abuse that remains little discussed in Japanese society.

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Sano herself admitted that because she had no bruises or injuries from the encounters, she didn’t think of herself as a sexually abused victim. Hayashi’s wife said in court filings that she resented her husband for his infidelity, but she refused to believe he had committed any sexual harassment. 

Hayashi’s wife accused Sano of “pushing all the responsibility of their relationship onto my husband, as if she is wholeheartedly the victim.” She told Sano, upon learning of the relationship, that if it was not consensual she should have filed a complaint to the university at the start. 

Tokyo District case

Signage in kanji characters for the Tokyo District Court is seen outside the premises in Tokyo on Nov. 30, 2022. (Kazuhiro Nogi/AFP via Getty Images)

Hayashi admitted that he was at fault but only for his infidelity and not for any alleged sexual harassment. “To be addressed as ‘dearest,’ in a message from a student to a professor, there is a familiarity there that is not quite normal,” he argued. 

In a similar case tried this year, poet and former Waseda University graduate student Rena Fukuzawa sued her teacher Naomi Watanabe for sexual harassment. She accused him of repeatedly and inappropriately touching her while also making many unwelcome sexual remarks throughout the time they’ve known each other. 

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The case against Watanabe deemed that he had made inappropriate comments, such as saying he thought about his student naked and declaring that he would make Fukuzawa his “woman” after she graduated. 

But the court did not deem that he had made inappropriate physical contact, a decision that Fukuzawa subsequently criticized, saying she had “mixed feelings” despite her win. The court said that there was “no evidence to recognize such behavior crossed a (socially acceptable) line.” 

Waseda University

Princess Astrid of Belgium appears at Waseda University during the Belgian Economic Mission to Japan on Dec. 6, 2022.  (Eric Lalmand/Belga Mag/AFP via Getty Images)

Fukuzawa also argued that another teacher to whom she brought a complaint about Watanabe ended up handling her case inappropriately, Japanese news outlet The Asahi Shimbun reported. 

“Even if I suffered harassment, if (the university side) had said to me, ‘You must have had a hard time’ frequently enough, or I had received appropriate support, my suffering wouldn’t have been as significant,” Fukuzawa said. 

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The professor she had gone to for help instead told her that “sexual harassment is something more serious” and that she had “let [her] guard down.”

In both Watanabe and Hayashi’s cases, the universities determined that the behavior and relationships at least warranted termination.

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