Japan: Rape Simulator Games & the Normalization of Sexual Violence

Rape Simulator Games and the Normalization of Sexual Violence


In May 2009 Equality Now launched a Women’s Action on rape simulator games produced and sold in Japan. The Action highlighted the game RapeLay which was produced by Illusion Software and sold on Amazon Japan. RapeLay shows a schoolgirl around 12 years old travelling on a commuter train. A man who has been following her gropes and sexually molests her. Eventually the train stops and she runs frightened into a public toilet, followed by her assailant who handcuffs and rapes her. The assailant takes her prisoner and repeatedly rapes her in various locations. Her mother and teenaged sister suffer the same fate. This family is targeted for rape as punishment because the older sister had previously reported to the police the attempted sexual assault of another woman by the rapist. The aim of the RapeLay game is for the player repeatedly to rape the mother and her daughters until they begin to “enjoy” the experience.

Japan ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1985 and was last examined by the CEDAW Committee, which reviews government compliance with CEDAW, on 24 July 2009. The CEDAW Committee expressed concern at the “normalization of sexual violence in [Japan] as reflected by the prevalence of pornographic video games and cartoons featuring rape, gang rape, stalking and sexual molestation of women and girls.” The Committee also stated that it was concerned about the stereotypical depictions of women in the media and that, “the over-sexualized depiction of women strengthens the existing stereotypes of women as sex objects and continues to generate girls’ low self-esteem.” In its concluding observations the CEDAW Committee strongly urged the Japanese government to “ban the sale of video games or cartoons involving rape and sexual violence against women which normalize and promote sexual violence against women and girls.” The new Japanese government, elected in August 2009, has the opportunity and responsibility actively to address the concerns expressed by the CEDAW Committee by banning all media which promote violence against women and girls.

Since Equality Now issued its original Action, Japan’s Ethics Organization of Computer Software (EOCS), the industry’s self regulatory body whose job it is to rate computer software, has reportedly banned its members from producing games containing certain forms of violence against women. EOCS is a voluntary organization with a large but not universal membership. It is not yet clear what aspects of violence against women its rules will address and to what extent they will be applied. However, online gaming magazines suggest that due to the international attention, game makers in Japan are merely changing titles and pictures on game covers to make them appear innocuous and/or preventing anyone from outside Japan from accessing their websites, but are not addressing the actual content of these games. The Japanese government must take decisive steps to ban outright games that promote violence against women and girls and to address the objectification of women and promotion of violence against women in various media including in pornography.

Amazon Japan and Illusion Software have now withdrawn RapeLay from sale, however both continue to sell similar extreme pornography games in the form of cartoons known as hentai which include women and girls being raped, gang raped, stalked, molested, sexually assaulted and groped. In a furious backlash against moves to restrict the normalization of sexual violence against women and girls, Equality Now has been targeted through online blogs and emails with hundreds of abusive and sometimes threatening communications, including seemingly credible videos of real girls actually being gang raped. The videos were passed on to the Japanese police who initially refused to investigate, stating that, based on the officers’ analysis of the shape of the girls’ pubic hair, the girls were over eighteen, therefore the tapes were not considered child pornography. Only after Equality Now impressed upon the police that actual (and not enacted) gang rape videos are in fact sold on the open market in Japan, did they finally agree to re-examine the tapes, but it remains unclear what, if any, action has been taken including to trace the sender of the videos. The failure by the police even to contemplate that a serious crime might have taken place remains a deep concern.

The hostile responses provoked by Equality Now’s advocacy against extreme pornography, including the examples above, underscore the urgent need to address all instances of discrimination against women and girls, including the promotion of sexual violence. Article 5 (a) of CEDAW, which obligates States Parties to “modify the social and cultural patterns of conduct of men and women, with a view to achieving the elimination of prejudices and customary and all other practices which are based on the idea of the inferiority or the superiority of either of the sexes or on stereotyped roles for men and women” is just one of many clear international standards adopted by the international community. In the same way that it would be unacceptable to promote violence against religious or ethnic groups, so it is unacceptable to promote violence and discrimination against women.

In addition to Japan’s obligations under CEDAW, Article 14 of the Japanese Constitution guarantees equality under the law and states that there shall be no “discrimination in political, economic or social relations because of race, creed, sex, social status or family origin.” Computer games such as RapeLay and real rape “pornography” videos condone and promote gender stereotypes and gender-based discriminatory attitudes. As the CEDAW Committee has noted, these, in turn, contribute to gender-based violence.