Arrest spurs debate on naming sex offenders


The arrest Thursday of a 36-year-old man suspected of abducting and murdering a 7-year-old Nara girl in November has again raised questions over whether communities should be informed when anyone with a history of sex crimes is living among them.

Kaoru Kobayashi, an employee of a Mainichi Shimbun newspaper agent, was arrested in connection with the kidnapping and killing of Kaede Ariyama, an elementary school first-grader. The daily fired him following his arrest.

On Thursday night, investigative sources quoted him as confessing to both abducting and murdering the girl, and it was learned that Kobayashi had a pedophile past. He had been convicted in the past of molesting eight girls in Minoo, Osaka Prefecture, for which he received a suspended sentence.

He later served three years in prison for attempting to murder a young girl by strangling her.

Experts say that there are many cases of repeat offenses in sexual crimes, and in some countries, including the United States and South Korea, the identities of those with past records have been made public to give communities a heads-up.

Authorities do not do so in Japan, largely due to concerns that such a move could hamper past offenders’ efforts to fit back into society.

“Was (the suspect) living so close by?” a 30-year-old woman living near Kobayashi’s one-room apartment in Sango, Nara Prefecture, asked after learning of his arrest.

She said her daughter, a third-grader, passed by the apartment building almost daily. Several nights earlier, she had seen him standing outside dressed only in shorts, despite the cold, she said.

“If he had been repeating these crimes, I’m angered by the fact that he had been living a normal life as though nothing had happened,” the woman said.

The 28-year-old father of a 3-year-old girl in a neighboring town said he had been really frightened by the murder.

“I wish names would be made public in cases where repeat offenses were likely,” he said.

In 2003, about 41 percent of suspects in molestation cases nationwide were repeat offenders, according to a National Police Agency official, who did not provide an actual number of offenders. This figure is about 5 percentage points higher that the average figure for all suspects in Penal Code violations, the official said.

In 1994, New Jersey began making public the names, addresses and photographs of criminals after a 7-year-old girl was murdered by a man who had a history of sexual offenses. Similar moves were adopted by other states.

In South Korea in 2001, the government posted information on a Web site on about 170 people who were convicted of sexual crimes against girls younger than 18.

In Japan, there have been no moves to inform the public about people among them with criminal records. However, Aichi Prefectural Police releases photographs of suspects arrested for what they deem as heinous sex crimes, including serial rape.

Professor Yuji Shiratori of Hokkaido University’s faculty of law advised caution toward introducing a U.S.- or South Korea-style system.

“There is the possibility that (an offender) may be stripped of the chance of being able to return to society,” he said.

“It would be better to instead establish a system of treatment that tries to correct deviant behavior through psychological care.”

But Tetsuya Fujimoto, a professor of criminology at Chuo University in Tokyo, said it’s time for Japan to consider information disclosure.

“We are very much behind in terms of alerting the general public,” he said.