Protecting stalking victims

The murder of a third year female high school student in Mitaka in western Tokyo on Oct. 8 by a stalker whom she had reported to the police was a senseless tragedy. Her death, along with several others at the hands of stalkers, are not totally in vain as they have spurred a review of how police handle stalking cases. The internal probe not only assigned blame in the Mitaka case but also established new guidelines, task forces and procedures that will hopefully prevent such tragedies from taking place in the future.

The Mitaka case and other similar crimes underscored the mishandling of complaints made to local police by people fearing for their lives. The results of an internal probe by the National Police Agency found that the officers involved did not take appropriate action to ensure the safety of the victims.

In the case of the Mitaka student, both her teachers and the victim herself reported to the police that she was being stalked. However, officers at both the Suginami and Mitaka police stations did not respond in an appropriate manner. They failed to take steps to ensure her safety, such as tracking down her alleged stalker or providing her and those concerned for her safety with advice on what protective measures she should take, such as moving to a safer location.

The new ways of handling these cases should help prevent similar mistakes. The belatedly established task force will be able to implement more thorough procedures for handling reports of stalking and domestic violence.

No longer will such reports go unchecked and potential victims be sent home without protection or a followup check by police.

The NPA has stated that police departments will now detain suspects if there are signs of danger instead of just trying to contact them by phone, as happened in the Mitaka case. Victims will also be better advised on whether to move to safer locations.

The NPA needs to ensure that victims are properly protected and that suspects are thoroughly investigated. The level of risk should be clearly ascertained and the special task force should intervene more readily. As real danger is often difficult to predict, officers should always err on the side of caution. To this end, police officers must be ready to take action without delay and, at the same time, work with the task force at the headquarters of the prefectural police departments. Allegations of stalking must be taken more seriously and investigated immediately.

The lives of many people who have fallen into abusive relationships, as well as people suffering domestic violence, are at risk. Everyone depends on the police to recognize the seriousness of their situations and to protect them. Hopefully no more victims will ever again have their pleas ignored and be sent home to meet such a tragic death as happened to the high school student in Mitaka.