Victims of sexual violence in Japan contacted support centers for help on more than 23,000 occasions between April and September, up 15.5 percent from a year earlier, partly due to the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, a Cabinet minister said Friday.

Support centers for those impacted by sexual assault set up in each of Japan's 47 prefectures were contacted via phone, email or in person a total of 23,050 times, Seiko Hashimoto, minister in charge of gender equality, said at a press conference.

Women take to the streets in Tokyo on June 11, 2019, to protest a series of court acquittals of men in sex crime cases. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

"More people need to understand how many women have been victimized in sexual assaults amid the pandemic, and the government has to support them adequately," she said.

During the first half of fiscal 2020, the most consultations were made in August with 4,456, up 895 from the corresponding month last year.

Some of the centers have seen an increase in the number of reports from victims who said they were assaulted by people they met on dating apps and websites, according to a Cabinet Office official.

Support groups and individuals in Japan have raised the alarm that measures to fight the spread of the novel coronavirus may also fuel domestic violence, as victims can be stuck at home with their abuser without the usual avenues of escape.

"It is important to provide medical, legal and mental support right after (people) suffer an assault," Hashimoto said.

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