Anne van Pletsen, a Tokyo resident for 13 years, was lying in a bed in Akasaka Hospital in Minato Ward last year when she decided to end her three-year marriage.
In March 1999, van Pletsen, a 37-year-old South African corporate secretary, was hospitalized for two weeks with a ruptured kidney, which she claims she suffered when her Russian husband kicked her.
|Anne Van Pletsen, a Tokyo resident, points to a photo showing an injury she claims she suffered at the hands of her former husband.|
Recalling the last days of her marriage, and her husband’s constant violence, she voiced bitterness not only toward her former spouse but also toward the police, who, she claims, were reluctant to protect her until she was actually hurt.
“If police had responded to my emergency calls and protected me, my injury could have been avoided,” she said. “Once, a policeman went so far as to tell me that they cannot do anything until I die.”
Van Pletsen said that even after she was injured, police and prosecutors tried to discourage her from pressing charges against her husband, saying the case would probably not go to court. More than a year after she filed the complaint, the Tokyo District Public Prosecutor’s Office on Thursday told Anne that the case will go to trial.
An Akasaka Police Station detective said officers handled the case “properly and quickly,” claiming it is impossible that one of his colleagues would have told her police could not act unless she was killed.
But experts on domestic violence cases claim police are usually hesitant to get involved in domestic assault cases, and consequently such violence remains common in many households.
According to a survey by the Prime Minister’s Office in February, to which 4,500 people responded, 15.4 percent of the female respondents said they had been assaulted by their husbands at least once, while 3.6 percent claimed they were repeatedly attacked by their spouses.
In 1999, police pursued criminal charges in 644 cases of domestic violence, either turning the cases over to prosecutors or taking other action, according to the National Police Agency.
Mizuho Fukushima, a lawyer and Upper House member, said the hesitancy police have toward acting against domestic violence reflects a common Japanese belief that outsiders should not intervene in family affairs.
“Households, not individuals, are generally regarded here as the basic social unit, which should by no means be interfered with by outsiders — either police or the courts,” she said. “This social belief, which discourages investigative and judicial authorities from dealing with domestic affairs, has allowed domestic violence against women and children to remain prevalent.”
Van Pletsen said that what she learned from how her case was handled by police and prosecutors was that if a woman marries in Japan, she loses all legal protection, even from violent crimes.
“Or, if you are a man, you can do anything to your partner,” she said.
Earlier this year, Masahiro Tanaka, an NPA official, wrote in his book, “Basic Ideas of Administrative Police Law,” that there is a belief among police that they should not interfere with domestic cases in the way they would in other incidents, because family affairs have less influence on social order and public security.
The Akasaka detective claimed the police attitude toward domestic violence is discrete, not indifferent. The relationship between criminals and victims is extremely complicated in these cases and victims usually do not stick to their desire to press charges.
The NPA, however, claimed it has made efforts over the past few years to improve its readiness to combat domestic violence and satisfactorily address the needs of crime victims.
“Mounting public anxiety over domestic violence has made the issue a top priority in forming a system to deal with it,” said Fumio Yamashita, an agency official.
In December, the agency ordered prefectural police to crack down on violence and other crimes against women and children, including domestic assault.
Responding to the order, Kanagawa Prefectural Police introduced a team of counselors for female crime victims consisting of 77 female officers. At the same time, Tokyo’s Komatsugawa and Nogata police stations formed networks to deal with domestic violence in cooperation with local hospitals.
Yamashita said the police efforts include establishing local networks to cooperate with lawyers, counselors and hospitals to identify domestic violence and to provide better care to the victims. Improving the attitudes and skills of individual officers in handling such cases is also essential, he said.
But lawyer Fukushima said the police must first hire more women, because they would naturally feel more sympathy and sensitivity toward victims of domestic violence, most of whom are women.
“The absence of a sufficient number of female officers has made the police an extremely macho organization, which often fails to understand how serious domestic violence is,” she said.
Women accounted for only 8.6 percent of the 240,000 police officers in Japan as of April 1999, the NPA said.
“Unless they hire more women and let them deal with domestic violence, victims’ dissatisfaction toward the police handling of domestic violence cases will never disappear,” Fukushima said.