On Monday, Rina Gonoi received an International Women of Courage Award from America’s First Lady Jill Biden and Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the White House. She was one of 12 recipients of this year’s prize, which honors women who’ve taken brave actions to fight for a better world. In 2022, Gonoi posted a YouTube video stating that she was a long-term victim of sexual harassment and abuse by senior colleagues in her unit of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF). A petition calling on the Defense Ministry to investigate her case garnered more than 100,000 signatures.  

What Happened to Rina Gonoi?  

One of the worst incidents occurred in August 2021, when Gonoi was allegedly pinned down by Shutaro Shibuya, Akito Sekine and Yusuke Kimezawa and forced to spread her legs open. They then repeatedly pressed their crotches against hers. Speaking to the BBC, Gonoi claimed that at least 12 other members of her unit were present at the time. Nobody attempted to stop the trio. Her complaint was dismissed after she reported what happened. In December of last year, the three men were found guilty of sexual assault and sentenced to two years in prison, four years suspended.  

Gonoi’s pursuit of justice was initially ignored by TV stations in Japan. She subsequently turned to social media. The overwhelming support she received eventually pushed the GSDF to act. It dismissed five members, punished four others and conducted an organization-wide investigation that found more than 100 similar complaints. Last year, Gonoi was one of two Japanese women, along with politician Arfiya Eri, to feature on Time magazine’s list of 100 emerging world leaders. She also appeared on the BBC’s 100 Women list of inspiring and influential females from around the world for 2023. A former judoka, Gonoi attended Monday’s ceremony at the White House sporting a judogi. 

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