NPO helps parents help child victims of crime by altering mind-set

by Tomohiro Osaki

Staff Writer

A nonprofit group assisting people victimized by crime held an unprecedented series of workshops nationwide this summer on what parents should and shouldn’t do if their children fall prey to criminals.

The National Network of Victim Support embarked on the initiative after seeing numerous cases over the years in which panic-stricken parents refuse to face reality and instead berate and even blame their children for the ordeal they went through.

“Parents should be keenly aware that how they react is key to their kids’ quick recovery from a traumatic experience,” said Chisato Suzuki, organizer of the series.

The group held workshops at five locations — in Tokyo, Fukushima, Aichi, Hyogo and Saitama prefectures — with professional psychotherapists on hand to provide advice. A total of 38 couples and their children attended.

At the final workshop Tuesday in Suginami Ward, Tokyo, psychotherapist Azusa Saito explained that common post-traumatic symptoms among young crime victims include trouble sleeping, becoming uncharacteristically irascible and reverting to infantile behavior.

But the most commonly observed issue is that children are made to believe they’re at fault, Saito said. Parents, therefore, instead need to assure them that they are not to blame.

For instance, girls who fall victim to sexual assaults tend to believe they have been “tainted” and wrestle with a painful cycle of self-loathing, she said.

“Upset to discover their daughter has been sexually molested, some parents blurt out stuff like, ‘If only you had the decency to not wear such a short skirt.’ But that’s the last thing you should tell them,” Saito said.

That doesn’t mean, however, that parents should mask their inner turmoil, Saito stressed, because trying to hide their true emotions often makes kids similarly introverted.

When child victims confide in their parents, it’s also paramount that parents express gratitude for their decision to share their awful experiences, Saito said.

Present at the workshop Tuesday, a mother of a 10-year-old daughter who only gave her first name, Masako, said the tips really helped. “It was very helpful to know what to say if my daughter ever is in pain,” she said. “I will make sure to say ‘thank you’ whenever she comes forward.”

The National Police Agency said 2012 saw 206,133 crimes against minors reported, accounting for 18.9 percent of all crimes. Theft was by far the biggest offense, at 86 percent of this figure.

However, when it comes to serious crimes, minors make up a large part of the overall total.

Of 188 kidnappings last year, 156, or 83 percent, involved minors, while 3,791, or 52.2 percent, of the 7,263 indecent assaults targeted minors. Among rape victims, 565, or 46 percent, of the 1,240 cases involved minors.