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Domestic violence victims at risk as Japan announces state of emergency

Media Contact

Rebecca Valli

Earlier this week, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe declared a state of emergency in major cities across the country in an effort to limit the spread of COVID-19. Abe asked people to refrain from going outside in Tokyo and six other prefectures worst hit by coronavirus.

Kristin Roebuck

Assistant Professor of History

Kristin Roebuck, assistant professor in the department of history at Cornell University, studies modern Japan with a focus on the history of medicine and law, race and sexuality and Japanese international relations. She points to Japan’s abysmal domestic violence record and says that those Japanese who feel least safe at home face heightened threats and dwindling protections in the era of COVID-19.


Roebuck says:

“Japan shares with Hong Kong the world’s highest rate of female homicide victims at 53%. Like women and girls around the world, those in Japan are most likely to be violently abused by men close to them. The United Nations has announced a global pandemic of domestic violence as women and children under stay-at-home orders find nowhere to escape their abusers. Meanwhile, abusers multiply with the financial and emotional stresses of the COVID-19 crisis. Japan’s privately-run shelters for domestic violence have been at capacity for years. Those Japanese who feel least safe at home face heightened threats and dwindling protections in the era of COVID-19.

“The average rented home in central Tokyo is barely larger than 400 square feet. Many families squish into spaces half that size. In ordinary times, life in Japan’s cramped urban housing is sustainable because people spend comparatively little time at home. But these are not ordinary times. 

“Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s call for Japanese people to stay at home amidst a COVID-19 ‘state of emergency’ portends a sudden tightening of private social bonds amid public social distancing. Stay-at-home orders place a strain on homes and families everywhere. For many sharing tiny dwellings in Japan, that strain will be exquisite, even fatal.”

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