Teen told of threat before slaying, got no protection

Tougher stalking law failed to stir police


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.

  • gakusei

    Ask a criminal to please call the police station when you get this message. Hmm. But I wonder what the police ought to have done? Had a cop escort her home? But the guy was waiting inside the house. Stalking is so scary…more laws won’t solve this because lawbreakers don’t care about laws. Maybe more study needs to be done on the psychology of stalkers and the best response.

    • expat88

      Plenty of lawbreakers care about the law. Except for psychopaths, most people who break the law know full well that they are doing something wrong. They do it anyway. Except, see, psychopaths are actually not too common. If you make a law that says, for example, “Don’t hide in women’s closets,” a man hiding in a woman’s closet might be deterred by thinking, “Oh, damn, this is illegal!” But more than that, if you actually enforce a law (which, as we can see here, Japanese cops do NOT), people will not only realize that something is illegal, but they will know, “Dang, I’m gonna get caught if I do that!”

      Don’t be obtuse. Lawbreakers DO care about laws, or they care about getting caught, and putting a law in place will absolutely deter some people. Not all, but the majority of human beings on the planet DON’T want to go to jail, and most people have the basic capability to connect crimes to consequences. Of course, we could get into the fact that Japanese culture spoils young men, and many young men in Japan have no sense whatsoever of action and consequences. I get that, and that is definitely part of the problem, but acting like laws are useless because some people ignore them is just plain silly.

      As for your rhetorical question? YES, the cops should have escorted her home! They should have asked if they can search her house. Let’s be real here: in Japan, there is no 4th Amendment. As an expat, I live in constant fear knowing that a cop can stop me and search me WHENEVER HE WANTS. So let’s be real: Japanese cops are VERY comfortable with searching people against their will.

      So, YES, they should have escorted her home. They should have strongly insisted on searching her house, securing the area. They ABSOLUTELY should have posted a beat cop around there or put the local patrol cop on high alert. They could have done ANY NUMBER of things to help this girl. One or two of those options probably would have saved her.

      “Maybe more study needs to be done on the psychology of stalkers and the best response.”
      Hey, you know what goes on in a stalker’s head? “Boy, I sure don’t want to get caught!” If stalkers know that the cops will put them as their top priority, guess what! They won’t be as likely to stalk people! As it is, the news is full of stalkers getting away with their crimes, and stalkers know full well that the cops don’t care what they do. It’s not complex psychology. “Hey, I can stalk this girl and no one will stop me! Cool!” Be honest: what crimes would YOU commit if you knew no one, not even the cops, would do a single thing to stop you?

      Because it’s clear from news stories like this, and many others, there are quite a few things you can do in this country without the cops giving a single damn.

  • El Anon

    Terrible, terrible tragedy. Can only imagine the suffering of her family right now.

    This is a very complicated issue. We shouldn’t throw all stalking cases into one bag. Police are dealing with a huge number of complaints daily, not only stalking. In this case, because she was an 18-year old girl, police or somebody (social worker, teacher?) should have been guarding her between school and home. She was really in no position to defend herself, and where in Japan’s education system are girls, or boys for that matter, taught how to think on their feet and defend themselves?

    A show of force, such as a police officer going around the home, may have scared off the attacker. But, if he was ill or enraged enough to kill, it’s hard to stop somebody longterm. Perhaps they could have baited him into meeting her somewhere, and then arrested him?

    This is a serious nationwide issue in our society, and society as a whole has to become more aware of it and do something constructive. There should also be strong laws and enforcement against people who play the “stalking card” to take revenge on somebody by making phoney claims at the cop shop.

    Stalking is really only the symptom of a deeper rooted sickness in society right now. I hope the JT continues to follow this issue.

    • expat88

      “A show of force, such as a police officer going around the home, may have scared off the attacker. But, if he was ill or enraged enough to kill, it’s hard to stop somebody longterm. Perhaps they could have baited him into meeting her somewhere, and then arrested him?”

      My thing is that, as a foreigner, I know I can be stopped, searched, or even arrested by the cops at almost any time, really for any reason.

      What stops the cops from doing this in this situation? What is it about an accused stalker that warrants more human rights than a law-abiding, tax paying foreign resident? Why should I live in fear that I’ll be stopped on a day that I’ve randomly forgotten my wallet, when this guy goes free?

      On top of that, the J-cops are well known to utilize psychological abuse to force false confessions out of random people for random crimes that they didn’t commit. But stalking?

      Nah. Stalking doesn’t warrant a response after 5PM.

  • iamanamericantoo

    It may not be the police’s fault in the death of a child, but there are serious issue with Japan’s police force. Not accepting the first report and suggesting that the vicim take it to another station is totally wrong. Crime doesn’t choose places and times only when police officers are on duty. Policing should be a 24 hours job. The main job of a police officer is to serve and to protect. Now “Stalking”. This is as illegal as any heavy crime. Japanese police needs to take things more seriously. When a person reports a stalking report, you need to send someone to both residence right away. The most important thing is to pickup and question the other person being reported. Calling the stalker is not the right approach. You need to approach him or her.(And of course they will deny it, that’s why you need to question him or her and use your best judgment to hold him or her for the “crime” of stalking.)You don’t just pick up a criminal for commiting a crime and letting them go, And law makers need to know that laws are meant to be followed as well as being there to be changed when they don’t work. Remember the lawmakers are there because of the people and that because of themselves. What will the lawmakers going to do now, that the police did not follow the new law? nothing?, maybe a police officer needs to be arrested for not following the new law. In this case, the first officer seems to have forgotten that he is there to serve and to protect.

  • Max Erimo

    Just another example of the ineptness and inadequecy of the Japanese police force. It cost another young person their life. Shame shame shame.
    The police force only take the so called best recruits after investigating the families of people who want to become police. The so-called best then commit crimes themselves as police, fail to protect the innocent and so on. They will always argue that they are resticted by the law. But fancy ringing a suspect and leaving a message on their mobile phone saying call us back.
    I feel very sorry for the victim and her family.
    May she rest in peace.

  • Starviking

    Police have more important things to do, like waiting near junctions with unnecessary turning restrictions to issue fines which go directly into slush funds. Protect people? Where’s the advantage in that?

    • sircosti

      Right, I see a lot of attention paid by police during the day to any small, real or imaginary, driving mistake around a big station of theirs in Tokyo. Yet, in the evening and at night, people come racing their motorcycles and modified cars right in front of this station. Mind-boggling.

      • expat88

        Huh? There are no cops patrolling the streets anywhere in my city, let alone the rural parts of the prefecture. I wasn’t even aware that cops did traffic patrols here at all.