NPO role in crime victim support termed vital

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KYOTO — While steps to support people victimized by crime have finally begun to be taken at the administrative level, many experts agree that nonprofit organizations providing counseling and other support services to them will still play a key role in easing their emotional suffering.

Since 1996, when the National Police Agency drew up guidelines for caring for crime victims, police departments in various prefectures have taken measures to this end, including creating special teams for dealing with the victimized.

Bills upholding their rights were sent to the Diet in mid-March.

But Makiko Hirata, a counseling expert, says that carefully thought-out services can be best provided by groups working at the local community level.

The Kyoto Victim Support Center, a nonprofit group based in Kyoto, is one such organization. To strengthen its activities, it will be reborn as a public corporation as early as this month.

Since its establishment in May 1998 chaired by Minoru Oya, a law professor at Doshisha University, the center has been providing crime victims and their families with telephone counseling as well as face to face counseling services.

It also trains counselors and conducts research to find out actual conditions of crime victims.

While at least 12 nonprofit organizations nationwide currently support crime victims, the Kyoto organization would be the second to work as a public corporation following one that secured such status in Aichi Prefecture.

“Public corporation status would strengthen our activities, as it helps enhance social recognition of the group. It would also make it easier to receive donations from businesses,” says Hirata, who serves as one of the directors of the center. Other directors are lawyers, university professors and business people.

The center, which now has about 500 members, plans to strengthen its counseling services so they are offered daily, compared with the current twice a week. In addition, it also hopes to expand its activities to other areas, including supporting victims when they sue the alleged perpetrators of the crimes, and at trials, Hirata says.

At present, the center provides telephone counseling between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays. From last April to March, it received 198 calls, up from 158 in the previous April-March period. Of the 198 calls, 25 were related to violence, 23 were about sex crimes and 17 were over traffic accidents, according to the group.

While 20 experienced staffers currently provide counseling services on a voluntary basis, the group will need 60 counselors when giving full-week services, staffers say.

But just increasing the number of counselors is not enough, according to Hirata, who also serves as secretary general of the Kyoto branch of the nonprofit organization Inochi no Denwa, or Crisis Hotlines.

“We don’t want to make crime victims suffer further due to improper treatment by counselors,” Hirata says.

While the center’s counselors — who range in age from their 20s to 70s — are all experienced or work in such fields as medicine, welfare and education, they also receive training by the center once a year.

Hirata stresses the importance of listening to the victims closely, making them feel that it is all right to -express their grief and anger and that they should not blame themselves for what happened.

“Counselors are not people who are superior and give advice and instructions,” she says.

When somebody is victimized, it often happens that the victim’s shock is too great to call a victim support center. Hirata says she hopes that in the future, the center can dispatch staffers to such victims, as practiced in the U.S. and Britain.

The telephone counseling service is conducted between 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays (Japanese only) at (075) 451-7830. The center’s Web site is: http://web.kyoto-inet.or.jp/ org/kvsc7830/