Saseboanon: My JET Program Sexual Assault Survivor Story
This isn’t the message you want to see after reporting a sexual assault.
Don’t go to the police?
What about the evidence? How will my (U.S.) embassy know what happened? How will the (British) embassy know that one of their citizens committed a crime?
This doesn’t feel right…
On March 3, 2018, I was a 2nd-year JET Program Assistant Language Teacher (ALT) in Sasebo, Nagasaki, Japan. My priorities at the time were simple: enjoy Japan while I could. It was my last year on the program and I only had four months left before I returned to the U.S.
My assailant was a 4th-year JET ALT from London. He was everyone’s friend, the fun guy at the party, a mentor/sempai in our community. While I was still struggling to learn basic Japanese, he excelled in three years to conversational fluency.
On the day of my assault, we were preparing a song for an upcoming English Camp. I knew my assailant since I first arrived in Japan and always had fun talking to him. That day at lunch, our conversation revolved around trivial things. I talked about how I was dating someone long distance and he told me about how he was building his marketing portfolio to expand into a field beyond teaching English.
Seems harmless, right?
After lunch, we headed to his apartment to practice the song. This wasn’t something alarming to me. I had hung out with guy friends in their apartments before.
Additionally, in the JET community, it was common for us to sleepover after a party or night out because the last train was at 10 p.m.
This wasn’t supposed to be something out of the ordinary.
For legal reasons, I cannot go into detail about what happened but I will say that I left his apartment shaking. I kept looking behind myself the whole route back to Sasebo Train Station. He mentioned that he would head out after me in a couple of minutes and I was afraid that he would follow me.
In my head I kept thinking:
Why did I mention that I had a leg injury right before it happened?
Did I not talk about my long-distance relationship enough during lunch?
How can I explain what happened to the police? My Japanese isn’t good enough.
Why did my friend do this to me? I thought that was my friend…
I was terrified to go to the police.
1. Google “Catherine Jane Fisher” and see how Japan handles sexual harassment/assault cases.
2. I could not speak enough Japanese to explain what happened to me.
3. My high school supervisor could translate but my assailant just happened to be his favorite ALT. My supervisor worked with my assailant for a long time and would always talk about what a great teacher he was.
In the likely case that the police refused to help me, I still wanted to see if he could be fired. Who could let someone like that around students? So I reported it to the Nagasaki Board of Education.
To my surprise, my employer told me I was on my own because my assault occurred outside of work/a JET Programme event.
Before the JET Programme sends you to Japan, they make it clear that they are not the JET participants’ employers. If something does occur, then the JET participants must contact their Contracting Organization. Even so, I thought I might as well try and see if my JET Program chapter could at least give me some resources.
However, their suggested resource could do nothing because they also did not directly employ me.
Could this get any more complicated? Well, yes. Remember the first picture in this blog?
When I told my Contracting Organization that I was going to the police their tone changed. The prefectural ALT supervisor and Prefectural Advisor (PA) scheduled a meeting to speak separately with me and my assailant. The English Camp was starting in a few days and I needed to know if they could prevent him from attending.
I thought the meeting was going very well until I heard this:
Person A: Can we give a copy of your report to your assailant?
Why would you need to do that?
Person A: What you wrote is very clinical and difficult to refute.
Me: I guess… um… he can look at it, but he can’t keep it.
Person A: Also, are you ok with keeping this “in office.”
Me: Umm… sure.
What does “in office” mean?
I don’t think alarm bells sounded more loudly in my life…
until I found out what my assailant’s punishment was.
My assailant was scolded for sexually assaulting me. That was it. How can you let someone like that work around your students or ALTs?
When I appealed to at least have him banned from the English camp, I received the following:
He could still contact me. Go to ALT events like BBQs and farewell parties. Maybe even come to my school if they hosted an English Camp.
This was not right. Besides this camp, the next one was an overnight camp. I could not stomach the idea of sleeping in the same space as him. But more importantly, I was physically nauseated by the idea that the BOE would let my assailant sleep overnight near students.
With the help of my friend, I finally called the police. I was lucky and the Sasebo police had an English-speaking officer, who happened to be female.
“Ideally you should have a lawyer with you and a female officer. Ask for a female officer,” said my lawyer.
Despite these advantages, the police refused my case since I was:
a) over the age of consent (13 years old in Japan)
b) had no injuries (despite explaining that I had a leg injury and if I defended myself, I’d have been trapped in my assailant’s bed)
c) leaving Japan in July 2018 at the end of my contract.
During my meeting with the police officer:
“You need to give a reason for why you want to file a victim’s report?” officer.
“My reason is that I was assaulted and if he is arrested then his embassy will be able to record it on his permanent record,” I said.
“You’re not injured though and even if we did arrest him, we have privacy policies and cannot tell anyone. Therefore his embassy would never know. I’m afraid your reason isn’t good enough.”
“Even with my leg injury? I told you I could not defend myself because I have a leg injury”
“Yes, I understand but that doesn’t make a difference… Do you mind if I ask a personal question? Why are you doing this to him? You know, when we catch someone for shoplifting, we take them in and give them a warning. We give them a warning, so they can think about their actions.”
From then on I contacted anyone I could think of:
London MET Police: He’s not a permanent reside therefore we cannot record his crime.
Journalists: Sorry, we’re busy with North Korea…
U.S. Lawyers: The crime happened in Japan.
UK Lawyer: We charge X amount before the first consultation.
Fine then close every door to me. If no one was going to keep me safe, then I was going to do it myself. For every English camp, I hunted for the organizer’s contact information and explained my situation.
While this worked to keep me safe, but I felt responsible for other people’s safety. On the JET Program, we can be contracted for a maximum of five years and my assailant was going into his fifth year (July 2018-July 2019).
To be proactive, other ALTs banned him from welcome parties and Christmas parties. Certain ALTs contacted their schools in advance to make sure he was not invited to their English camps.
Even though these were appropriate preventative measures, this was not our job.
If he was fired in the beginning then that would’ve solved so many problems.
After I left Japan, my case considered closed. I was gone; therefore the “problem” was gone. Luckily, I’m not the only one who thought my assailant’s punishment was too lenient. On December 5, 2018, my case was reopened by the Nagasaki City Council. A council representative questioned the Nagasaki Board of Education about why they did not fire my assailant.
It was broadcasted online.
The Nagasaki BOE gave a statement.
And local newspapers covered my story.
To this day, my assailant is still a JET Programme ALT. He has no intentions to return to London. He plans to apply for a Fukuoka Start-up visa to put his business degree and N2 level Japanese to use.
This is the worst thing that I have ever experienced, but I will not hide and I will not be silenced. I’m still working with my lawyer.
Share my story, retweet it. Spread awareness.
This person should not be an ALT on the JET Programme.