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Beefed-up law seen doing little to curb stalking menace

by Masaaki Kameda

Staff Writer

Wednesday’s shooting death of a 26-year-old woman in Tatebayashi, Gunma Prefecture, is a sour reminder that even though the anti-stalking law was bolstered last year, measures against the crime remain flawed.

On Wednesday, Chihiro Suzuki was found dead in a car in Tatebayashi, and police suspect her ex-boyfriend, who was arrested last year for assaulting the victim and was later released after paying a fine and receiving a warning from the authorities, was her killer.

In November, a 22-year-old woman was stabbed to death in Ichikawa, Chiba Prefecture, by a former boyfriend. This was a month after an 18-year-old high school girl in Mitaka, Tokyo, was murdered by an ex-boyfriend. Both victims had complained to police of being stalked, but authorities apparently failed to adequately respond.

Stalking cases logged a record high 19,920 in 2012, after the government started compiling statistics in 2000, when the anti-stalking law took effect, the National Police Agency said.

The law was introduced following a 1999 stalking-murder in Okegawa, Saitama Prefecture, in which Shiori Ino, 21, was killed by the acquaintance of her stalker. In that case, police failed to respond despite her repeated requests for help.

The law has allowed, for the first time, for victims to file a criminal complaint against their stalkers. Police can also warn a stalker to not approach a victim and public security commissions can issue restraining orders.

The revision to the law last year requires the police to explain to victims in writing the content of their warnings to stalkers, and if they decide not to issue a warning, why they didn’t.

The revised law has also made it possible for police in jurisdictions where offenders live or stalking occurs to issue warnings, rather than just where the victims live. In addition, harassment by email was added to a form of stalking along with fax messages and telephone calls, though the revised law does not cover threats using social-networking services or other online communication forms.

Despite the legal steps, stalking incidents have not abated. Lawyer Kyoko Hasegawa said police need to act more prudently by closely monitoring the actions of perpetrators.

“Police tend to respond ad-hoc and officers don’t coordinate their responses even within their organizations when they deal with victims and assailants.”

She also said that, to protect victims, the anti-stalking law needs to be revised further so that a court can issue a restraining order, instead of a local-level public security commission.

Courts can issue the order more quickly, Hasegawa said, noting that, under the current system, police need to warn the assailant before the commission issues an order, which often requires a lot of time and repeated acts of stalking.

“The system needs to be changed so that the court can issue the order if stalking occurs,” she said.

Hasegawa added similar incidents would recur without scrutiny from outside experts.

“Police didn’t review the past serious (stalking) incidents with a third party,” she said. “Police need to review past cases of failure and draw lessons.”

The NPA convened a panel of experts to further improve anti-stalking measures in November. The panel is expected to compile a report by the summer.