A business that claims to help socially withdrawn people is being sued by a mother and daughter for allegedly taking the daughter from home by force and holding her against her will under the threat of violence.
According to the suit filed with the Tokyo District Court, the mother claims Tokyo-based Consultation Room for Anything did not help her daughter as advertised even though she paid around ¥5.7 million for its services under a three-month contract. She is demanding around ¥17 million in damages.
Businesses that target the parents of young people who avoid social contact and refuse to leave their homes have been on the rise. They claim to help hikikomori (socially withdrawn people) with training in new job skills, but some have been accused of engaging in forced detention and extracting huge sums of money for payment.
The National Consumer Affairs Center of Japan has received a number of complaints about such businesses.
The plaintiffs, who live in the Kanto area centering on Tokyo, say the daughter, in her 20s, was not a recluse but had slapped her mother during an argument in September 2015, prompting her to search for help online and call the business, which claims to be run by a former police officer.
Consultation Room for Anything instructed the mother to come immediately to its office, where an employee pressured her to sign a contract, saying, “Let’s buy your daughter a future” and “Don’t be swayed by sentiment,” according to the lawsuit.
After around seven hours of persuasion, the mother signed the contract, it said.
About 10 days later, people dispatched by the business broke the lock of her daughter’s apartment door as her mother watched, according to the lawsuit. The daughter was living alone.
“Did you attack your mother?” one of the men asked her. “Yes,” she answered.
Then the men, who were dressed in black suits, grabbed her by her arms, put her in a nearby car and took her to a different apartment where there was only a mattress and a bottle of water, she said in an interview.
The young woman was held under virtual house arrest for about a month and sometimes punched and kicked, the lawsuit stated. It also claims she was threatened with statements such as, “If you run way, we can’t ensure the safety of your friend.”
She did run away and went to the local police station for help several times, she said. But the officers at the station would only trust the words of the officials from the business, who told them that she had problems and that the parents had entrusted her to them, she said.
She was then taken back to the apartment and forced to sit up straight on bent legs for several hours.
One time, she was instructed to smile and make a peace sign with her fingers for a photograph. She later learned that the photo was sent to her parents so they would tell the police their daughter was under their care.
On a subsequent escape, she left her captors’ apartment and managed to get to her parents’ house, where they realized it was all a lie, she said.
Despite the possibility that staffers from the business may try to retaliate against the daughter for suing them, she is determined to go through with it.
“They were taking advantage of parents who wanted the best for their child and treated us like useless people, labeling us as hikikomori and NEET (Not in Education, Employment, or Training),” she said. “I’m determined to make it public in court about who they really are.”
The business said through a lawyer that it had not received a complaint from the plaintiffs.
Individuals from Fukushima, Kyoto and Hokkaido are living under the supervision of Consultation Room for Anything in the Kanto region, according to people familiar with the matter.
The Cabinet Office estimates there are 540,000 recluses in the country aged between 15 and 39. It defines hikikomori as those who remain in their homes for most of the day for at least six months.
Tamaki Saito, a professor on social recluses at Tsukuba University in Ibaraki Prefecture, said there should be a system that allows a third party to monitor such “rescue” businesses.
Saito said businesses who talk ill of such children by suggesting they will be mentally ill if left unattended, or who try to fan the worries of their parents, can’t be trusted.
“Many parents, who believe it is partly their fault, can’t seek help even if they become victims of such businesses,” Saito said.