Rina Gonoi says the scars of a sexual assault by colleagues that she suffered while serving in the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force will never heal but she wants to move on.

The 23-year-old met on Monday with the four men responsible and received written apologies.

Rina Gonoi, who was sexually assaulted by colleagues while serving in the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, speaks at a press conference in Tokyo on Oct. 17, 2022, after receiving direct apologies from the four men responsible. (Kyodo)

The men bowed repeatedly and some of them got down on their hands and knees to apologize. They told her they intended to quit the GSDF.

"It was late coming, but this provides closure for me," Gonoi said at a press conference in the parliament building. Senior officials from the Defense Ministry met with her last month to apologize, but she had demanded apologies from the perpetrators.

"I intend to live my life my way with strength, not as a victim, but as an individual," she said.

It is "not an issue that can be forgiven with an apology," Gonoi said, adding, "My scars are for life and I want them to fully own up to what they did and atone for it."

A GSDF internal investigation found last month that Gonoi had endured sexual harassment on a daily basis. The probe was ordered by Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada following a petition launched by Gonoi that received over 100,000 signatures.

She endured physical and verbal sexual harassment on a regular basis between autumn 2020 and August 2021, including being pushed down onto a dormitory room floor, according to the investigation.

Gonoi was in a unit at Camp Koriyama in Fukushima Prefecture, northeastern Japan, but quit the force in June 2022. She began publishing allegations of abuse online in her own name and submitted a petition to the Defense Ministry in August calling for an investigation.

All four men had physically harassed her, she said. The men denied the allegations and an initial investigation did not result in criminal charges, but the case was reopened after a Committee for the Inquest of Prosecution, an independent panel of citizens tasked with reviewing prosecutors' decisions, ruled in September that it was unjust not to prosecute.

Three of the men are currently being investigated on suspicion of indecent assault.

During her meeting with the men, Gonoi said she asked why they had "not responded honestly." She said the men admitted to coordinating their stories because they wanted to protect each other and keep the truth from their families.

She said one had promised to "engage honestly with the investigation," and another said he would "reflect and atone" for his actions for the rest of his life.

The ministry previously said Gonoi's unit commander had received a complaint from her after an incident in August 2021, but it was not passed on.

Consultations regarding harassment, including sexual harassment, in the Self-Defense Forces have soared from around 250 in fiscal 2016 to about 2,300 in fiscal 2021.

There were around 19,000 female SDF members as of March, accounting for 8.3 percent of total personnel and up from 5.4 percent a decade earlier, according to the ministry's 2022 white paper.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tuesday in a parliament session that the cover-up of harassment at the ministry and in the SDF had often been raised and criticized.

"We will strive to eradicate harassment," Kishida said.

The ministry is conducting a separate special investigation across all SDF units into various forms of harassment, including abuse of power, to determine whether appropriate measures are being taken.

Regarding the special probe, Gonoi said there will be "more resignations if something is not done to protect those coming forward. I want them to approach the issue with great care."

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