‘Rapelay’ and the problem of legal reform in Japan

Government regulation of graphically animated pornography

Nakasatomi Hiroshi, The University of Tokushima [About | Email]

Translated by Caroline Norma, [About | Email]

Volume 12, Issue 3 (Article 2 in 2013). First published in ejcjs on 17 February 2012.

Originally published as Nakasatomi Hiroshi, “Reipurei mondai no keii to hou kaisei no kadai,” Poruno/kaishun mondai kenkyuu kai: Ronbun/shiryou shuu, Vol. 9, 2009, pp. 21-43.


Ongoing international campaigning against the Japan-made ‘RapeLay’ computer game since May 2009 has had a big effect on Japanese society. The speed at which opposition to this game spread throughout the world caught the Japanese gaming industry by surprise. The campaigns followed media reports about RapeLay, which first appeared in the English-language press in August 2009. The Japanese government was the first to respond to the campaigns, and roughly one month later instituted measures to strengthen the gaming industry’s system of self-regulation. This led to a temporary subsidence in campaigning. In this article I first trace the recent history of the emergence of the RapeLay game controversy, and highlight the problems inherent to the gaming industry’s self-regulation policies. I then discuss problems inherent to the RapeLay game itself. I understand the game to be problematic because its content is extremely discriminatory against women, and also constitutes child pornography. I also problematise the fact the game’s content is not prohibited in Japan because it takes the form of graphic animation, as also the fact that the game allows players to simulate the experience of perpetrating rape.

Keywords: RapeLay, video games, computer games, sexual violence, child abuse, pornography, regulation, legislation.

The controversy over the Japanese computer game ‘RapeLay’ began when the Irish newspaper the Belfast Telegraph first reported on 12 February 2009 the sale of RapeLay by the online retailer Amazon UK.1 Players of RapeLay stalk women and children, and then rape them in a virtual world. Immediately following the Telegraph article, Amazon UK pulled RapeLay off its website and, two months later, Amazon Japan followed suit. RapeLay was specifically discussed in the Telegraph article, which featured an image from the game and was headlined “Amazon selling rape simulation game.”2 In the article, Irish Labour MP Keith Vaas strongly condemned the sale of computer games such as RapeLay and expressed his intention to raise the matter in parliament. The article also quoted Professor Peter Hepper, head of the School of Psychology at Queen’s University Belfast, who described harmful aspects of computer games like RapeLay, and noted that these types of violent computer games may induce violent behaviour in users.3

In May 2009, the New York-based international human rights organisation Equality Now launched an international protest campaign called “Women’s Action 33.1 Japan: Rape-simulator games and the normalisation of sexual violence.”4 Equality Now’s Women’s Action 33.1 campaign urged its 30,000 members in over 160 countries to express their disapproval of the normalisation of sexual violence through Japanese rape-simulation video games. In its fiercely argued statement launching the campaign, Equality Now stated that “computer games such as RapeLay condone gender-based discriminatory attitudes and stereotypes, and encourage violence against women.”5 Equality Now called upon its members to protest to the Japanese government that

rather than allowing rape simulation computer games to flourish, Japan should comply with Japan’s obligations under Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and the Japanese Constitution to eliminate discrimination against women and particularly to ban the sale of computer games such as RapeLay, which normalise and promote sexual violence against women and girls.

In addition, the statement requested that members write letters of protest to Illusion Software, the producer of RapeLay, as well as to the online retailer Amazon Japan calling for the immediate withdrawal from sale “all games including RapeLay that simulate sexual and other forms of violence against women and girls.”6 Equality Now has been closely monitoring Japan’s comic and animation industry for a long time due to its use of sexual violence against women as a form of entertainment. This long term scrutiny led to the Women’s Action 33.1 protest campaign. This campaign led by the Equality Now’s London branch follows the 2002 campaign against the controversial 1980s Japanese comic Rapeman. The issue of Rapeman has again been taken up in the current action against RapeLay.7

The protest by Equality Now against RapeLay was first brought to the notice of the Japanese public by the Japanese-language Yomiuri newspaper on 8 May 2009 in an article titled “Japan-made rape simulation game thrives in Japan despite its ban in the West following fierce protest campaign. Lax regulation to blame?!” Since then, taking the Yomiuri’s lead, a succession of reports appeared in the Japanese media about the controversy. The Japanese government responded swiftly. The Komei Party, which was a member of the ruling coalition at the time, held a committee meeting on the issue of rape-simulation computer games in May 2009. Two weeks later, the women’s committee of the ruling coalition’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) also held a meeting to discuss the regulation of rape-simulation computer games.

Japanese game producers toughen self-regulation standards

Following the Japanese government’s response, the Japan Ethics Organisation of Computer Software (EOCS), which is the adult computer gaming industry’s self-regulating body, announced on 2 June 2009 its decision to toughen self-regulation standards. According to the Yomiuri on 3 June 2009, EOCS self-enforced a ban on the production and sale of rape simulation computer games as well as proposed a revision of its self-censorship criteria. When it announced its decision, EOCS commented that games such as ones that simulate rape “deviate significantly from social norms.” Later on, Japan’s Information Technology Media News reported a further EOCS decision to ban the overseas sale of Japanese adult content computer games — identified according to EOCS’s own regulation criteria — and to limit their sale only to Japan’s domestic market. The EOCS decision will prevent new rape simulation games being sold in shops or online.

Surprisingly, less than a month after Equality Now began its protest campaign, EOCS, 90 per cent of which consists of Japanese adult-content computer game producers, banned the production and sale of games such as RapeLay and other sexual violence simulation games in Japan. This fact is surprising because this is the strongest action possible for EOCS. The anti-social aspect of games such as RapeLay is the most basic factor that prompted this response. Even though the characters in the game are not real live women and children, and in spite of the fact that violence is regularly depicted in the virtual world, the existence of rape simulation computer games cannot be justified in a democratic society. This anti-social aspect of RapeLay and other rape simulation games, as I will point out later, attracted the attention of some Japanese journalists who responded to concerns about women’s rights and gender equality issues. In fact, Japanese media pressure influenced the final outcome of the issue, more so than international criticism.

However, the international aspect of the campaign also had a great effect. The campaign was ignited by an internationally based human rights group. This made the Japanese government and some parts of the media pay attention to external pressure aimed at Japan. The Japanese government and the media become agitated whenever a violation of human rights is pointed out by a Western country rather than by an Asian country or by a local Japanese group. If a group based in Japan had initiated the campaign, a similar response from the Japanese government and the media would have been highly unlikely.8 However, concerted international pressure and the media response ultimately prompted the government to take action. Nevertheless, the Japanese government’s position concerning the whole issue of RapeLay is still unclear. RapeLay and other rape-simulation computer games encourage discrimination against women by making them the subjects of sexualised violence and entertainment. This is why any government committee dealing with the issue of RapeLay should have focused on the human rights and sexual discrimination aspects of the issue. The gender equality committee of the Komei Party gave consideration only to the child safety and child pornography aspect of the game. This is evident in the party’s creation of the Committee Working Towards a Child Safe World, as well as the Child Prostitution and Child Pornography Law Revision Committee’s decision to study the issue. The LDP’s committee that handled the issue was the party’s women’s bureau chaired by Yamatani Eriko — famously known for her bashing of ‘gender free’ initiatives and ‘sex education’. Anti-feminist Yamatani Eriko’s involvement in the committee caused a shudder among women’s groups.

The Japanese media have also linked the issue of RapeLay to child pornography. The editorial of the Japanese language Mainichi newspaper of 9 June 2009, for instance, was titled “Global criticism of child pornography.” In this editorial, the issue of RapeLay is linked to the issue of the Child Pornography Law amendment. This approach is contradictory because the decision of EOCS to ban rape simulation games was based not only on preventing child pornography but sexual violence against women as well.

The EOCS self-regulation system and its limits

There are two obvious problems inherent to the EOCS self-regulation system. The fact that EOCS is merely an industry self-regulation body made up of computer game producers gives rise to these problems. The EOCS decision does not apply to computer game marketing and distribution companies. Moreover, its regulation does not apply to non-EOCS producers or individual producers, because EOCS is an independent and a voluntary alliance. As a result, sexual violence simulation computer games already on the market remain a major concern. These games will continue to be sold in shops and over the Internet. Even though EOCS has called for a halt in the sale of existing rape simulation games, as pointed out earlier, parties involved in the sale of such games are not really bound by EOCS’s decision, thus any call for a halt in selling is bound to be a failure.

Owners of the majority of retail stores selling these games have been saying that, on the basis of their marketing policies, they do not sell games made by non-EOCS producers. The sale of rape simulation computer games made by computer game producers and other individual producers who are not part of EOCS is restricted by these policies. However, even though some retail store owners will stop selling the games because of this policy, non-EOCS computer game producers as well as other individuals who produce rape-simulation computer games in the future will continue to sell over the Internet.

The outcome of the EOCS decision can be summarised with the observation that 90 per cent of Japanese adult-content computer game producers who are bound by the decision will stop making rape simulation computer games. Retail stores selling computer games will withhold the sale of any new rape simulation computer game produced by non-EOCS producers. However, these games will continue to be sold over the Internet. This scenario can be analysed in several ways. In the first instance, it is assumed that there will be a decrease in the supply of sexual violation games because 90 per cent of adult-content game producers will put a halt to production. However, it is obvious that this decrease will only be a temporary one because, in reality, the demand for rape simulation computer games already produced will not decrease over any short period of time. Rather, there is a greater possibility of non-EOCS computer game producers, including individual producers, ramping up production as a result of the increased demand. The high demand for RapeLay and similar games will also result in some game producers leaving the self-regulatory body to continue production.

The other issue is the free availability of RapeLay on the Internet. As pointed out by EOCS itself, rape-simulation games violate social norms. Therefore, banning the online sale of RapeLay and other rape simulation games rather than concentrating on retail sellers is essential, because the Internet can be easily accessed by anyone, including children. Moreover, the situation where these kinds of games can be browsed and purchased online with a click of a button violates Japanese zoning ordinances that restrict the location and commercial conditions under which items like adult-content computer games can be sold. In order to fix this contradictory situation, retailers must be banned from selling rape simulation games online.

Online retailers volunteering immediately to end the sale of these games is another way to resolve the issue. As pointed out by Equality Now, online retailers such as Amazon.com, considering the negative impact of the games, their company reputation, and ethical business principles, pulled not only RapeLay, the cause of the commotion, but also other sexual violence simulation games with much higher levels of malicious content. Having said that, a self-regulation system created solely by computer game producers and marketing and distributing agencies is absolutely inadequate. A self-regulation system is inadequate because relying on a system of voluntary membership to EOCS will not prevent the supply of other games similar to RapeLay produced by producers who are not part of EOCS, and will only result in the creation of a monopoly.

Some critics argue that the EOCS decision to toughen self-regulation standards saved the entire adult-content computer game industry being subjected to regulation, through the sacrifice of only rape simulation computer games such as RapeLay. In other words, these critics suggest that, by toughening the self-regulation measures applied to rape simulation games, the entire adult-content gaming industry managed to avoid been subjected to regulation. But this argument is flawed. It is flawed because it is a weak argument based on the domino effect: if part of the industry is regulated, sexual violence simulation games in this case, then the whole adult-content computer game industry will not be subject to regulation. There is no evidence to support this view. The important issue to consider is whether the EOCS decision to toughen its regulation standards really has materialised in terms of the disappearance of rape simulation computer games. Did EOCS’s prompt decision to toughen self-regulation standards for rape simulation games really prevent the industry being subject to legal regulation under Japanese domestic law? If laws were introduced to regulate rape simulation games, they would have applied to the whole industry, regardless of who was producing them — including individual game producers — and regardless of whether these producers were part of EOCS or not. But the reality is that the EOCS decision helped sexual violence simulation computer game producers as well as individual game makers who are not members of EOCS to evade the regulatory net. As a result they will be allowed to continue their production and sale of computer games such as RapeLay without any hindrance.

International criticism caused EOCS to announce its plan to strengthen self-regulation standards and ban the production of rape simulation computer games. However, as I pointed out earlier, this ban without doubt will not put an end to the current situation in which non-EOCS members and individual game producers continue to produce and sell rape simulation computer games, neither will it put an end to the availability of these games on the Internet, where anyone who has access can browse, buy or sell rape-simulation computer games, including RapeLay. That is why self-regulation — merely imposed in order to silence international criticism — is wholly inadequate in restricting a product like RapeLay, which is highly harmful to society.

The problem inherent in RapeLay: A form of discrimination against women

A significant characteristic of RapeLay is that its content is based on brutally misogynistic attitudes towards women and naturalises the sexual enslavement of women and girls. The game contains scenes depicting women and girls being subjected to commuter train groping, stalking, forceful confinement, rape, and gang rape until they succumb to the assault, and even up to the point where one scene depicts the victim begging a rapist to abuse them.9 In the past, the concern of the majority of critics of pornography was that men who watch rape scenes in pornography will tend to emulate the experience as if it were a game and perpetrate rape in real life. Ironically, RapeLay has made rape an actual ‘game’. In fact, RapeLay stands for ‘rape play’. RapeLay has made rape a recreational activity. RapeLay’s aim is to make women sexual slaves by taming them through sexual assault. RapeLay also tries to portray the male player as a tamer who is in a position of power and control over women. It is also important to note that inflicting rape and controlling the women in the game gives a sense of pleasure and entertainment to the male player and instils a rapist mind-set in him.

One of the more notable aspects of RapeLay is its brutal attack and attempt to control the reproductive functioning of women. One of the main scenes of RapeLay depicts a mother and her two daughters being raped and made pregnant and then forced to have abortions. Failing to make the victims get abortions will result in the player being stabbed to death by one of the victims. Pregnant women are depicted as demons in this segment, which reinforces the misogynistic angle of the game. Another criminal aspect of RapeLay is that its plot contains a scene in which a mother and her two daughters are raped as revenge, to punish an older sister who, on a previous occasion, after witnessing a rapist sexually assaulting another woman in a commuter train, reported the incident to the police. RapeLay tries to convey to its audience the message that — even though reporting sexual assault to authorities is a justified act — it is considered to be unruly and a betrayal of men and men’s sexual privilege. It is considered to be a treacherous act, and this also shows the male dominant ideals that permeate the game.

RapeLay as a form of child pornography

I have already criticised the Komeito Party and parts of the media for seeing RapeLay as an issue limited to the issue of child pornography. However I do not make this criticism on the basis that RapeLay does not contain child pornography. Of the three female victims depicted in the game, two are underage children below 18 years. The game can certainly be included within the category of child pornography. Despite the fact that RapeLay contains child pornography, though, it is common knowledge that, under Japan’s Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography and the Protection of Children, pornographic material containing images of real children is the only material that is defined as child pornography. Under this definition, computer games such as RapeLay, which use graphically animated images, are not counted as child pornography.

At present, there are two Japanese laws that govern the sexual depiction of a person, the first one being Article 175 of the Penal Code: Distribution of Obscene Objects.10 The article applies to any person who distributes, sells or displays an obscene document, drawing, or other object. The second is the Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Protection of Children which regulates the sexually explicit depiction of a person under eighteen years of age.11 The scope of Article 175 is limited because the law applies only to public displays of genital and sexual intercourse. On the other hand, the Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Protection of Children is applicable in a wider context. This law applies to images, including “any pose of a child engaged in sexual intercourse or any conduct similar to sexual intercourse,” as well as “any pose of a child having his or her genital organs touched by another person or of a child touching another person’s genital organs, which arouses or stimulates the viewer’s sexual desire,” and “any pose of a child wholly or partially naked, which arouses or stimulates the viewer’s sexual desire.”12 Virtual images in comic, animation and computer graphics are subject to regulation under Article 175, but are not included in the provisions of the Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Protection of Children. The fact that virtual images are not included in the legal definition makes the application of the Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Protection of Children even more limited with regard to offences of child pornography compared to Article 175.

The common explanation for the difference in the laws is the conflicting aims of the two laws. The objective of Article 175 is to maintain law and order with regard to people’s sexual activities. The aim of the Act on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, on the other hand, is limited to protecting children’s rights. (This is evident in its statement of purpose as stipulated in Article 1.)13 However, the law defines objects that depict real images of children only as pornography.

As a result, children are endlessly subjected to abuse, torture, and exploitation in a sexually explicit way in the virtual world in a fairly open manner and these materials are circulated more or less freely on the Internet. The virtual depictions portray children in a sexually explicit way, which makes such material child pornography. But people say that virtual depictions cannot be seen as child pornography because, “in the virtual world, children do not exist to have their rights violated.” As a result, the virtual depiction of sexually explicit images of children continues in an unregulated state in Japan.

RapeLay as a rape simulator

The main reason RapeLay is attracting international criticism is not because of its computer generated graphics or video imagery, but because it is a computer game. This is clearly evident from the Belfast Telegraph article that first exposed the issue, as well as in Equality Now’s campaign statement. If RapeLay was an animated film containing pornography, then its pornographic content would not have been serious enough to cause international uproar (given the volume of similar material that is already in circulation). The international criticism first started when the Belfast Telegraph questioned the rape simulation aspect of RapeLay in its article headlined “Amazon selling rape simulation game.”14 Keith Vaas, who raised the matter in parliament, also noted “the fact that anybody can purchase a game that promotes a crime such as rape cannot be ignored.” He also raised the specific issue of computer games, saying that, “someone watching a movie in a movie theatre cannot take part in the events that are happening on the screen. And if someone does try to participate, then he or she will be thrown out of the movie theatre. However, in the case of computer games, the player can interact with what’s happening in the game: a player can shoot, kill as well as rape women.”15 Equality Now in its campaign statement similarly pointed out that the impact of computer games is stronger than that of other forms of media entertainment. According to its campaign statement, in computer games the player can “control what happens through manipulation, for example as in RapeLay, of an onscreen penis and hands to simulate rape and sexual assault.”16

RapeLay is a rape-simulation computer game containing images that are degrading, dehumanising and discriminatory towards women. RapeLay is also a form of child pornography. The harmful impact these types of games have on the user is a matter of great concern. In spite of this enormously harmful nature, however, graphically animated computer games such as RapeLay are still not banned in Japan. As I’ve argued, the self-regulation body for computer game producers, EOCS, changed its self-regulation policy only after international criticism started to spread. The EOCS policy to change its self-regulation standards is aimed only at silencing criticism, and nothing else. Legislation should be introduced to ban violent computer games and pornography that makes rape a subject for entertainment. However, there are some long-standing problems and opposition that hinders the legal regulation of graphically animated pornography. Some anti-regulators point to the absence of a victim in graphically animated pornography, arguing that computer games do not violate any rights or laws.

Pornography containing extreme acts of violence or depictions of discrimination toward women is not regulated under existing legislation. Currently, obscenity laws are the only form of legislation that regulates the public display of genitals and sexual intercourse. The reason why pornography — which offers violence against women and sex crime as a form of entertainment — is not regulated is because people generally do not believe men who use and consume it will actually go on to commit violent crime against women. As a first step in banning rape-simulation computer games, therefore, it is important to demonstrate the harmful impact of pornography on users. In fact, violent computer games and pornography have a stronger impact than comics or animation. However, people in Japan began to understand the dangerous effect of rape simulation computer games only after the international campaigning against RapeLay. There is a clear correlation between men using violent pornography to seek sexual gratification and the perpetration of rape against women. Graphically animated violent pornography is not currently banned in Japan because of the argument that a rights violation does not occur due to the absence of a victim. However, it can be clearly demonstrated that violent computer games do violate children’s rights. In order to understand the concern expressed by Equality Now and other pro-regulatory critics, I will examine two studies that review the existing literature on the relationship between violent pornography and sexually violent behaviour in real life.

The link between violent pornography and rape: Research findings

First, I will look at meta-reviews of experimental psychological research on the harmful impact of pornography — defined in this context as sexually explicit images of women, including violent as well as non-violent images — on men. The following two articles sum up the results and conclusions of extensive studies carried out in North America. The first analysis comes from a paper published in 1991 by Obuchi Ken’ichi of Tohoku University in Japan. Obuchi comes to the following conclusion after reviewing the findings of about 60 studies carried out in North America during the period 1970 to the end of the 1980s.17 First, he finds that violent pornography, such as pornography depicting rape, encourages users to perpetrate rape in real life. According to the findings, one of the dangerous aspects of violent pornography is that it makes usually non-aggressive and placid viewers violent. In addition, he found that pornography creates callous attitudes towards rape and makes users believe rape myths are true: women get sexually aroused when they are forced and enjoy being raped. This belief strengthens, and the pornography user’s permissiveness toward sex crime escalates, along with the consumption of pornography.

Another finding of the research reviewed by Obuchi is that sex offenders exhibit strong sexual arousal when exposed to violent pornography. In fact, men in general were sexually aroused when shown rape scenes. Based on this finding, it can be rationally argued that a considerable proportion of men with psychological characteristics similar to that of sex offenders are present among the general population because rape myths are fairly common. This is why sexual coercion or rape is not a pathological problem specific only to a small proportion of the male population, but rather a social phenomenon that is relevant to most men.

The second study is a meta-analysis18 of 46 cases of statistical research published from 1962 to 1995 on the impact of pornography. “The results are clear and consistent; exposure to pornographic material puts one at risk of developing sexually deviant tendencies, committing sexual offences, experiencing difficulties in one’s intimate relationships, and accepting rape myths.”19 Based on these findings, the authors conclude that “the research in this area can move beyond the question of whether pornography has an influence on violence and family functioning.”20

The findings from these two literature reviews clearly demonstrate a link between violent pornography and rape. Those who defend pornography generally emphasise its cathartic effect, saying that “pornography reduces rape, and is harmless.”21 However, the findings of these two review studies do not indicate any outcome that justifies this argument. Rather, the findings clearly show that pornography creates rape myths and increases women’s chances of being raped.22

The scientific research examining the psychological impact of pornography has some serious limitations. One of the limitations of scientific research is that an accurate replication of reality is not possible with experimental research methods. In the experiments examined above, subjects were exposed to pornography for only a short period of time.23 In everyday life, however, the duration and nature of the exposure to pornography is at a much stronger and deeper level and cannot be compared with the duration or the nature of the exposure in the laboratory experiment. From puberty, many men are repeatedly exposed to pornography on a daily basis. In many instances the exposure continues for an extended period of time, sometimes for years, even decades. Another important factor is, unlike in experimental study, in everyday life men indulge in masturbation while watching pornography. When we consider the harmful impact of pornography on users, though, the use of pornography as an instrument to obtain sexual gratification through masturbation is an important aspect that requires careful analysis. As I mentioned earlier, men use pornography — depicting degrading and dehumanising sexual acts or treatment of women — as a tool for masturbation. Pornography is used to experience not only physical pleasure and satisfaction, but psychological pleasure and satisfaction as well. Men use pornography as a tool for sexual arousal and then convert it into sexual gratification through masturbation.

The research findings clearly indicate that there is a significant harmful impact caused by pornography on viewers, even in spite of the fact that in experiments subjects were exposed to pornography for only a short period of time, and the exposure was limited to viewing (not masturbation). Therefore we can conclude that, in real life, the impact of pornography — creating rape myths and inducing men to perpetrate rape — on users, where the duration of exposure is much longer and the content more explicit, is incalculable, and far more serious than the results indicated by scientific research.

Another limitation of scientific research is that it is unable to account for the relationship between the perpetrator and the victim because the majority of rape incidents indicate that men — predisposed to rape through exposure to violent pornography — are more likely to target victims who are known to them. Children — the number one target — followed by intimate partners and subordinates, students, and prostitutes are potential victims. This is because most males, when selecting a potential victim, select someone who will not disclose the rape or who can be easily silenced. There is social stigma and legal penalties for committing rape, and this forms a barrier to men raping women known to them. In some rape cases, where children are the victims, the child isn’t fully aware of the fact she is being victimised, or when the child does manage to disclose the incident she is discouraged by her mother or other family members in taking action against the perpetrator. Therefore, children, including perpetrators’ own daughters, children of relatives living together with perpetrators, as well as children in the neighbourhood can become victims of rape. Children are believed to be the primary target of pornography-induced rape. This is because the men who rape children are often the fathers, brothers, relatives, or neighbours, as well as the employers or teachers of victims: men who have total control and authority over the victim preventing them from making a complaint.

When a man sexually assaults his intimate partner it is categorised as domestic violence. The majority of domestic violence cases that are reported involve sexual violence such as rape. The number of women who are victims of their intimate partner through domestic violence and rape are higher than the number of women raped by total strangers. However, even though the number of cases where the intimate partner of a victim is charged with physical assault is increasing, rape and indecent assault charges are almost unheard of. Other types of sexual violence where the perpetrator is rarely brought to justice are sexual harassment — sexual coercion aimed at subordinates or students by community members as well as sexual violence aimed at women in the sex industry.

The following cases are specific examples of pornography-induced rape, perpetrated against daughters and intimate partners that I sourced from the findings of the Survey on Pornography-induced violence (2003, pp. 48-49) carried out by the Anti-Pornography and Prostitution Research Group (Japan). Approximately 2500 women lawyers and counselors across Japan responded to the survey.24 According to respondents, perpetrators forced their victims to watch pornography and imitate the degrading acts depicted. Some victims knew that the perpetrator used pornography on a daily basis. A number of incidents relayed by respondents are described as follows.

  • A four year old daughter was sexually molested by her father who consumed child pornography. The incident occurred in the bath. The girl was made to touch and suck the genitals of the father, then she was forced to spread her legs, and the father inserted his finger into her vagina. While unclear in the child’s testimony, it is possible that the father attempted to rape the girl.
  • A 12-year-old girl was forced to watch a video — depicting a man having sex with a girl assumed to be a high school student — and was then forced to imitate scenes depicted in the video by lying on the bed and spreading her legs. Her father inserted a finger and other objects into the child’s vagina while verbally assaulting her. He then raped the child.
  • A teenage girl was raped by a stranger after being shown pornographic material.
  • A 16-year-old girl was forced to watch various types of pornography on a daily basis for an extended period of time by her father (in violation of the Juvenile Protection Ordinance).
  • A 32-year-old woman was raped after being shown extreme fetish violent pornography.
  • A 36-year-old woman who had previously been in a relationship with the rapist was shown extremely violent pornography, and was then brutally assaulted and raped.
  • A 37-year-old woman was forced to imitate scenes depicted in pornography and was then tied to a bed and raped by her boyfriend.
  • A 28-year-old woman was shown a video depicting pornography by her husband and then forced into prostitution (in violation of the Anti-Prostitution Law).

Next I will detail another series of cases described by respondents that demonstrate how pornography induces rape. These cases can be considered concrete evidence of women being sexually abused by their husbands or partners who are addicted to pornography. In all the cases women admitted to being forced to imitate degrading acts depicted in pornography. According to survey respondents, in 71 cases out of 73, the rapist was a husband, partner, or a person closely related to the victim. A detailed description of the assaults is given in the following paragraphs. The first case involves an under aged girl in which the perpetrator was the father. From the second case onwards the victims were adult women and the perpetrator was the husband or the partner. Respondents described cases that included:

  • Physical assault with a leather belt, and forceful insertion of a wooden penis into the vagina of the victim and kicking it.
  • A victim’s hands being tied together, and physical assault while the victim struggles.
  • Forceful insertion of the perpetrators fist into the victim’s vagina or anus.
  • A victim forced to have sex with a number of men at once.
  • A victim forced to have sex with three persons.
  • A victim forced to engage in abnormal sexual acts or extremely perverted sexual acts.
  • A victim forced to give fellatio.
  • A victim forced to have anal sex.
  • Facial ejaculation.
  • A victim forced to swallow semen.
  • A victim forced to walk naked in public.
  • A victim forced to urinate while the perpetrator, the husband, was watching.
  • Forced submission to the perpetrator.
  • A victim forced to engage in masturbation.
  • A victim forced to wear clothes as depicted in pornography, and then forced to engage in sexual activity.

In these cases described by respondents, the victim was the daughter or the intimate partner of the perpetrator, and the perpetrators consumed violent pornography on a daily basis. These victims were targeted because of their intimacy with the perpetrator, which meant they could be easily silenced. This is another important factor in the debate on pornography that cannot be fully grasped in scientific studies.

The causative effect of pornography

Lastly, I would like to introduce the causal model as advanced by prominent American sociologist Diana Russell.25 Russell summarised the common factors and processes that predispose men to commit pornography-induced rape in a paper titled “Pornography and rape: A causal model.” Pornography plays an important role in inducing rape desire in men who consume pornography. This correlation is not a one sided or a direct causation, nor can it be considered an incidental causation; “the cause is both the sufficient and the necessary condition for the occurrence of the effect.”26 According to Russell, in order for rape to occur, a man must not only be predisposed to rape, but his internal (ethical and human rights point of view) as well as social inhibitions against acting out his rape desires must be undermined. The consumption of pornography helps an individual to fall into these conditions.27 In other words, the consumption of “pornography can induce a desire to rape women in males who had no such desire previously, and it can increase or intensify the desire to rape in males who have already felt this desire.”28 As we have seen, this point of view has already been well demonstrated by the results of psychological laboratory experiments. Russell also identifies “four different ways in which pornography can induce this predisposition: pairing sexually arousing/gratifying stimuli with rape; increasing males’ self-generated rape fantasies; sexualizing dominance and submission and creating an appetite for increasingly stronger material.”29

Secondly, the consumption of pornography “undermines some males’ internal inhibitions against acting out rape desires.” According to Russell, pornography can affect the internal inhibitions of some males in seven different ways; “objectifying women (considering women as sexual objects); rape myths; acceptance of interpersonal violence; trivialising rape; sex-callous attitudes; acceptance of male dominance in intimate relationships and; desensitising males to rape.”30 Russell also argues that men act out their desire to rape because pornography undermines the social inhibitions preventing rape. Men do not commit rape only because of a predisposed desire or because their internal inhibitions are undermined; “they may still not act out their desire to rape because of their social inhibitions.”31 There are five different ways violent pornography can undermine the social inhibitions of some males:

(a) viewers’ estimates of the percentage of men who have raped women would likely increase; (b) viewers would be likely to consider rape a much easier crime to commit than they had previously believed; (c) viewers would be less likely to believe that rape victims would report their rapes to the police; (d) viewers would be more likely to expect that rapists would avoid arrest, prosecution, and conviction in those cases that are reported; (e) viewers would become less disapproving of rapists, and less likely to expect disapproval from others if they decide to rape.32

The effects of graphically animated violent pornography

I have discussed the harmful effects of pornography on users, but this discussion has solely addressed pornography produced using real live human beings, whether this harm has been proven in scientific research, or proven through the development of the causal model. However, I would like to explore the harmful effects of violent virtual pornography, such as animation and computer games, on users. When a comparison is made — with regard to the impact on users — between violent pornography that contains images of live people and virtual pornography, many people assume that the impact of violent pornography with live characters is stronger than the effect of violent virtual pornography. But it is important to note a few distinctive characteristics of graphically animated violent pornography that make it particularly harmful.

One distinctive characteristic of graphically animated pornography is that the image of characters appearing can be easily modified. For example, in graphic animation the appearance of a character (physical and facial features) can be graphically animated to have a facial appearance of a child with a body of a grown woman: with large breasts and buttocks, as well as pseudo-childlike depictions. In addition, graphic animation can create action or activity such as: physically injurious sexual positions, extreme abuse and torture, severing human bodies into parts or dissection. The graphic animator is free to make any sort of modification. Because of this, graphically animated pornography potentially has a far deeper impact than other forms of pornography. Despite the absence of live characters, graphically animated pornography can distort the sexual desires of the user to a more extreme and inflated level.

In rape-simulation computer games such as RapeLay, the player can simulate rape, which makes the impact caused by violent computer games stronger. This impact is stronger because the player uses his hands (through a console) to move the on-screen victim in any direction he wants. He is able to manipulate the victim a full 360 degrees as if they were a puppet on a string. This makes the players sexually objectify the victims depicted in the game. They become objects for his sexual gratification, and something he can play around with. As a result the player will feel a sense of dominance and conquest over the female characters in the game. The extent of the harmful impact, if the player acts out his experience in real life, is immeasurable.

The following argument is based on a psychological point of view of the bad effect of violent video games.33 Studies have resoundingly proven the harmful effect of violence on television. Though based on television, the findings can be applied to computer games as well. According to Sakamoto Akira, there have been many studies carried out to investigate whether television-based violence predisposes the viewer to perpetrate violence in real-life. Researchers say that because violence is rewarded in television the viewers are trained to believe that violence is something good, and as a result they are induced to commit violence in real-life situations.34 In addition to the fact that players are rewarded for perpetrating violence, violent video games induce users to perpetrate violence due to two other reasons. First, the users of violent video games become familiar with violence and may consider resorting to violence as an option in real-life situations. Second, the fictional settings depicted in violent video games are similar to real-life situations, hence the user may commit violence in real-life situations and cause harm to actual people.

The argument that exposure computer games predisposes viewers to perpetrate violence is supported by an article titled “US Military Is Meeting Recruitment Goals with Video Games — but at What Cost?”35 The US military’s latest marketing campaign is based on a violent video game called “America’s Army,” in which the player can experience a pseudo-battle and military training similar to real-life military training. The US military hired top computer game designers and allocated a sum of US $4.4 million to design the game in 2002. Every year since then, the military spends US $1.5 million to upgrade the game. The game can be downloaded free on the Internet. In 2005 the total number of registered users of the game was 1.3 million.

The game is most popular among high school students. In one high school, users went to the extent of ostracising non-user fellow students. A student in the high school was quoted as saying, “I have been eagerly playing this game for 3 years, now when I go to bed at night, I dream the battle while I’m sleeping. I’m quite sure that won’t happen when I’m in the army for real.” He and his gaming buddies have already decided what they are going to do after finishing high school: join the army. The reason the US military spends such a massive amount of money and provides the game free of charge is because the game allows teenagers to experience simulated military training that is similar to real-life recruit training. The military knows that these teenagers who are hooked on the game will be inclined to continue the game in the real world. In other words, computer games have a strong impact on users and induce them to emulate violence in the real world. The US government acknowledges this fact through its funding of the game.

This aspect of computer games, in which users want to emulate in real-life what they do in a game, cannot possibly be different when the content of the game is rape. As I’ve discussed, what prevents them perpetrating rape in real life is the fact that rape is a criminal offence: social inhibitors act against it. The army is a legitimate entity in America and signing up to it is not a crime. But the behaviour fuelled by violent computer games such as groping, stalking, rape, gang rape, incest, and mutilation are clearly considered crimes. Because of this harmful effect, violent computer games cannot be socially accepted and endorsed.

I have discussed how the consumption of pornography induces the user to perpetrate rape. Laboratory studies fail to measure the effects of prolonged use of violent pornography on a daily basis. Even though laboratory studies prove that exposure to violent pornography can induce men to perpetrate rape against women, the impact of prolonged consumption of violent pornography cannot be measured by laboratory experiments. Second, I have shown that the majority of the victims of violent pornography-induced rape are likely to be the perpetrator’s intimate partners or children who are less likely to publicly expose the perpetrator. Third, I have demonstrated that violent virtual pornography is likely to cause more harm than other forms of pornography. The sexual desires of the user are inflated by the exposure to violent virtual pornography because of disproportionate modifications to the physical features of the characters. Fourth, I have shown that the effect of violent computer games is far more harmful than pornography depicted in still frames and animation because the user of rape simulation computer games gets a feeling of sexual conquest and dominance over women.

When we synthesise these points, it is evident that violent virtual pornography such as RapeLay clearly violates women’s and children’s rights. This is reason enough to legally regulate violent virtual pornography and impose a ban on the distribution and sale of rape simulation computer games, regardless the origins of the material.


In order to introduce legislation to regulate rape simulation computer games, Article 2.3 of Japan’s Child Pornography Prevention Law must be amended to include virtual child pornography in its definition of child pornography. Amending the law by expanding the definition of child pornography to include virtual child pornography was not included in the proposed amendment that was recently rejected by the House of Representatives. However, the House of Representatives proposed more scientific research to find out how child pornography in the form of comic, animation and computer games violates children’s rights. Users of virtual child pornography have started a protest campaign and have voiced their opposition to regulation. These anti-regulators argue that virtual pornography does not pose any rights violation due to the absence of a victim.

As a requisite condition of the enactment of the legislation to ban all forms of child pornography it is very important that the harmful effects of virtual pornography are legally recognised and validated. There are very few countries that have banned virtual child pornography. However, the more virtual child pornography spreads throughout the world through the Internet, the more countries will ban such material and increase the pressure on countries that do not impose a ban, and the pressure on countries that allow production of the material. Reflecting on the process that led to the banning of child pornography in Japan, sooner or later a ban on virtual child pornography will also be imposed.

It is important to note, moreover, that merely amending Japan’s existing Child Pornography Law will not be sufficient, because rape simulation computer games such as RapeLay have the subordination of women as their primary characteristic. Women will continue to be targeted in rape simulation computer games even if the Child Pornography Prevention Law is amended to ban rape simulation computer game that target children. This is because, first, rape simulation computer games targeting women will continue to exist. And men who use these games will continue to perpetrate rape against women, with teenage and underage girls being their primary targets. Secondly, child pornography currently exists as a secondary form of adult pornography. Without imposing a ban on violent pornography depicting adult women, a ban on virtual child pornography will be ineffective. The subjugation of women through discrimination and sexual bondage begins at childhood. That is why rape simulation computer games such as RapeLay and other forms of virtual child pornography predominantly depict underage girls. A fundamental aspect of pornography is that it utilises women’s, especially underage girls’, submission and vulnerability as well as sexual objectification for male sexual gratification. This discriminatory aspect alone leads to the production of child pornography, because children are easily subordinated, because of their vulnerability and virginity. The fact that children are forced and coerced to partake in sexual activity is a violation of their rights and is a crime.

We can amend the Obscenity Law to ban computer games that victimise women. Child pornography is defined in the Child Pornography Prevention Law according to its sexual explicitness: based on the level of exposure and the explicit nature of the material. The present Obscenity Law is legally interpreted according to the principle that sexual activity is a private activity: it is not carried out in public. This approach disregards the aspect of violation of human rights through the subordination of a person, and rather focuses on sexual morality and good social conduct. That is why the objective of the current Child Pornography Prevention Law is only to preserve social harmony by focusing on the level of exposure and explicitness. Similarly, the Obscenity Law is completely ineffective in preventing the subordination of women through pornography. The Obscenity Law must be amended to ban the subordination of women through pornography.


[8] I believe this would have been unlikely because of experience dealing with the media in a previous campaign. Out of the major Japanese media organisations, only one organisation responded positively to a request made by the Anti-Pornography and Prostitution Research Group to report on the offensive nature of a pornographic video depicting real-life images of women been subject to gang rape, assault and wilful physical injury.

[10] Article 175 A [person] who distributes, sells or displays an obscene document , drawing or other objects shall be punished by imprisonment with work for not more than 2 years, a fine of not more than 2,500,000 yen… <http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/law/detail/?id=3&vm=04&re=01&new=1>

[11] The term “child pornography” as used in this Act shall mean photographs, recording media containing electromagnetic records (any record which is produced by electronic, magnetic or any other means unrecognizable by natural perceptive functions and is used for data-processing by a computer; the same shall apply hereinafter) or any other medium which depicts the pose of a child, which falls under any of the following items, in a visible way:

(i) Any pose of a child engaged in sexual intercourse or any conduct similar to sexual intercourse;

(ii) Any pose of a child having his or her genital organs touched by another person or of a child touching another person’s genital organs, which arouses or stimulates the viewer’s sexual desire;

(iii) Any pose of a child wholly or partially naked, which arouses or stimulates the viewer’s sexual desire.


[12] Act No. 52, on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography, and the Protection of Children (1999) at http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/law/detail/?dn=1&x=38&y=13&co=1&yo=&gn=&sy=&ht=&no=&bu=&ta=&ky=child+pornography&page=2 (accessed 30 January 2011)

[13] Article 1 The purpose of this Act is to protect the rights of children by punishing activities relating to child prostitution and child pornography, and providing measures for the protection of children who have consequently suffered physically and/or mentally in light of the fact that sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of children seriously infringe upon the rights of children and taking into account international trends in the rights of children. http://www.japaneselawtranslation.go.jp/law/detail/?dn=1&x=38&y=13&co=1&yo=&gn=&sy=&ht=&no=&bu=&ta=&ky=child+pornography&page=2

[17] Obuchi, Ken’ichi, “Bouryoku porunogurafii: josei ni tai suru bouryoku, reipu keikou, reipu shinwa, oyobi seiteki hannou to no kankei,” [Violent pornography: violence against women, rape proclivity, rape myths, and the relationship between sexual response], Research in Social Psychology, Vol. 6, No. 2, 1991, pp. 119-129.

[18] Meta-analysis is a research method that combines the statistical analysis of several studies that address the research hypothesis, and then the findings are subjected to systematic analysis and comparison from various angles.

[19] Oddone-Paolucci, Elizebeth, Genuis, Mark and Violato, Claudio. ‘A meta-analysis of the published research on the effects of pornography,’ in Violato, Oddone-Paolucci, Genuis, eds., The Changing Family and Child Development, Ashgate Publishing, 2000, pp. 48-58.

[20] ibid, pp.xviii.

[21] The Oddone-Paolucchi et al paper cites a study that can be considered the only exception, but there is a flaw in the study. ‘One argument that supports the debate that the widespread use of pornography can lower the incidence of sexual crimes, is a study conducted in Denmark, the study did not include a comparison group, an essential criteria required for meta-analysis’ (Oddone-Paolucchi, et al., op.cit. p. 50).

[22] This conclusion is confirmed in the 1986 final report findings of the US Attorney General’s Commission on Pornography. As pointed out by Houn Kawashima Youko, “According to this report, pornography is considered a harmful material because ‘sexually explicit, violent pornography helps spread violence, rape, disdain and discrimination against women,’ and ‘violent pornography induces violence and rape against women.’ The report further concluded that ‘there is a cause and effect relationship between violent pornography and violence against women’ and presented a series of recommendations for strengthening the crackdown on violent pornography. The findings of this Commission are completely opposite to the findings of previous report published in 1970, in which violent pornography was not considered.” Houn Kawashima Youko, Onnatachi ga kaeru Amerika (Iwanami Shoten, 1988), p. 164-165.

[23] Here, the common methods of experimental procedures to examine the impact of pornography (whether it increases the aggressiveness towards women or not, etc.) is explained. First, ‘the individuals selected for participation in these studies are primarily undergraduate college students. They volunteer in order to fulfil a course requirement in departments of psychology, communication, or other university departments. For their participation they are normally given either extra course credit or, less frequently, financial payment. When they are initially recruited they generally do not know that the study involves exposure to sexual materials.

After they arrive for the experiment, subjects are usually told that the researcher is interested in the effects of stress or reinforcement on learning memory. The subject is informed that he or she will be required to perform some task that will be evaluated by another subject in the experiment and will be given an opportunity to evaluate the other subject’s performance afterwards. The other subject, sometimes called a confederate, actually works for the experimenter.

In order to anger subjects so that they would be instigated to aggress, the experimenter has them perform a task. The subject is told that his or her performance on this task will be evaluated by another student, who is actually the confederate. The evaluation often takes the form of written comments and sometimes includes the delivery of electric shocks to the subject.

Secondly, at this point in these studies, subjects would be exposed to the sexual stimuli. A common procedure is to tell subjects there will be a break in the experiment to allow the confederate time to study for a task. Given the free time, the subject is asked if he or she would be willing to help the experimenter in another, unrelated study. Subjects are then asked to examine and evaluate carious types of pictorial stimuli or films. These materials could be anything from non-sexual scenes to nudity and explicit sexual behaviors. The actual exposure time is usually no more than 5 minutes.

Following exposure to the various films or pictures (depending on the study), subjects are given an opportunity to evaluate the confederate’s performance. The typical procedure is for the subject to administer a varying number of shocks or administer certain levels of shock to the confederate for the errors made on a bogus task. The number of shocks or average level (intensity) of shock delivered by the subject is the measure of aggression in these studies. The reader should keep in mind that no shock is actually administered, but rather the subject believes that he or she is delivering some form of punishment to the other person’. The above is an excerpt from:

Donnerstein, Edward, Linz, Daniel and Penrod, Steven The Question of Pornography: Research Findings and Policy Implications, The Free Press, New York (1987), pp. 39-40.

Apart form the above studies there is other research that uses other methods of investigation. “There are few cases of research carried out using male university students in a laboratory setting. The participants were divided into two groups and the first group was shown violent pornographic material each for five consecutive days and the other group was shown pornographic material that did not contain any violence.” Afterwards, the subjects were told to hold a mock trial about a rape case. The researches compared the extent of the emotion or attitude shown by the each group towards the rape victim.

[24] See Anti-Pornography and Prostitution Research Group at http://www.app-jp.org/modules/cxap/ (accessed 15 February 2011)

[25] Diana Russell, ‘Pornography and rape: a causal model’, in Diana Russell (ed), Making violence sexy: feminist views on pornography (New York: Teachers College Press, 1993), pp. 120-150. Russell links her model to the argument made by David Finkelhor. In 1984, Finkelhor developed a multi causal theory to explain the occurrence of child sexual abuse. But Russell defined causation by using the multiple causation conception in sociology. According to this definition, ‘pornography can be a sufficient (though not necessary) condition for men to desire rape’ (p. 128).

[26] Theodorson & Theodorson as cited in Diana Russell, ‘Pornography and rape: a causal model’, in Russell (ed), Making violence sexy: feminist views on pornography (New York: Teachers College Press, 1993), p. 126.

[27] ibid.

[28] ibid, p. 128.

[29] However, Russell does not argue that pornography is the only cause of rape. Russell points out that other causes such as (a) biological factors, (b) childhood experiences of sexual abuse, (c) male sex-role socialisation, (d) exposure to mass media that encourage rape, also predisposes men to want to rape sexually assault women (p 126).

[30] ibid, p. 135.

[31] ibid, p. 141.

[32] ibid, p. 142.

[33] Sakamoto, Akira, Terebi Gemu wa Bouryoku Sei wo Takameruka, (Tokyo: Housou Daigaku, 1999), 105-112.

[34] ibid.

[35] Tsutsumi, Mika, Binnkonndaikoku America (Tokyo, Iwanami) See http://www.newamerica.net/node/25883

About the Author

Nakasatomi Hiroshi is a co-founding member of the Anti-Pornography and Prostitution Research Group, and professor of law at Tokushima University.

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Caroline Norma is a lecturer in the School of Global, Urban and Social Studies at RMIT University, Australia.

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