Coming just days after the introduction of a tougher anti-stalking law, the stabbing death this week of 18-year-old high school student and budding actress Saaya Suzuki raises serious doubts about the ability of police to respond to credible threats.
Though Suzuki had complained to police of being stalked by a former boyfriend, it wasn’t enough to save her. Interviews with law enforcement sources and school officials suggest the police response lacked urgency.
Charles Thomas Ikenaga, the 21-year-old man arrested for the murder, told investigators he had met Suzuki through Facebook about two years ago, according to the police.
Suzuki, who appeared in a movie a few years ago, was pursuing a show business career while attending school.
The two dated until around last fall. Ikenaga told police he resented Suzuki for their breakup, and was apparently pressuring her to see him again.
Suzuki confided to her homeroom teacher on Oct. 4 that Ikenaga had been hanging around her house and that she was “scared.” She said he had waited outside her house that morning as well.
Around June, she blocked his number on her mobile phone after receiving a death threat. Ikenaga then started to lie in wait for Suzuki near her house earlier this month.
On Oct. 4, soon after hearing Suzuki’s complaints, the teacher contacted the Suginami Police Station near the school, but was told the case might be better handled by police in the city where Suzuki lived, Mitaka. At around 5 p.m, an officer told the teacher the counter was closing soon and that the police could not deal with nonurgent issues on weekends.
On Monday, after Suzuki complained of being stalked again, teachers at her school recommended that she immediately go to the police.
Suzuki went to the Mitaka Police Station with her parents Tuesday morning before going to school. She was killed just outside her home that afternoon.
“We instructed her not to go home on her own and to rush to a nearby house if anything happened,” the school principal said, indicating the message may have not been driven home forcefully enough.
Suzuki and her parents asked the Mitaka police to issue a warning to the stalker but Suzuki did not know his address.
When Ikenaga didn’t answer a call from police to his mobile phone, they left a message asking him to call the station.
The police also asked Suzuki to contact them if she saw Ikenaga, and gave her the phone number of the officer in charge.
According to freelance writer Jun Tachibana, 42, who advises young people on stalking issues, an increasing number of girls find dates through the Internet but often only know their boyfriends’ email addresses and telephone numbers.
“It is important to teach the risk (of dating through the Internet) to girls,” Tachibana said.
Last year, the National Police Agency instructed police forces across the country to immediately process stalker complaints, unless they clearly lacked a criminal nature, in response to criticism for a slow response that led to the murder of two women in Saikai, Nagasaki Prefecture, in 2011.
The Mitaka Police Station was in the process of collecting data required to formally accept Suzuki’s complaint and issue a warning to Ikenaga, such as copies of his email messages, when the stabbing occurred.
“We will check whether our response was sufficient,” a senior official of the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department said.
Tamie Kaino, a professor emeritus at Ochanomizu University specializing in gender law, criticized the police response.
“It is possible that the assailant was provoked by the phone calls from the police. The police’s sense of crisis awareness is so low,” she said.
“The general public and high school students do not understand the risk of stalking crimes, which can escalate rapidly. Unless the police put priority on protection and take action against stalkers, such crimes will be repeated,” she said.