When the most heinous crime is carried out, families of the deceased can be struck by intense media attention, often against their will.
“The more time goes by, the deeper my sorrow of not having my daughter here,” says Fumiko Isogai, a 69-year-old resident of Nagoya, whose only daughter Rie was killed 13 years ago at the age of 31.
In August 2007, Rie was abducted on a street in Nagoya, robbed, killed and abandoned on a mountain in Gifu Prefecture by three men who met through an online underground bulletin board used to solicit accomplices for committing crimes. One of the men, Tsukasa Kanda, received the death penalty and was executed.
In an interview with Chunichi Shimbun, Isogai recalled her experiences of having to be interviewed by the media against her will immediately following the incident and called on the media to be more considerate.
“Media reporting on the victims is necessary” to convey their suffering to society, she said, but added that reporters should comply with the wishes of the victims and their families, such as refraining from interviewing them if they refuse.
Regarding the disclosure of victims’ names, which came under debate following criticism over the media reporting the names of people killed in an arson attack at a Kyoto Animation Co. studio last year, Isogai said she supports the reporting of names.
“I want the names (of victims) to be reported to show they had a life in this society, and to let people know the dreadfulness of the incidents,” she said. But at the same time, she showed understanding to the feelings of those who want to remain anonymous, stressing that media outlets should respect the wishes of the victims’ families.
Isogai, who gives lectures nationwide as a family member of a crime victim, urged the government to strengthen support for families of those who fell victim to crimes, saying they bear heavy psychological and financial burdens following the death of their loved ones.
The following is the interview:
Only those who went through a similar ordeal can truly understand the pain that crime victims and their families go through. How do you feel now years after the incident?
I try to suppress memories of the incident, but I get flashbacks from time to time. When I think of how my daughter was abducted and killed, I feel for her, thinking how scared she must have been.
There is anger in me toward the perpetrators, too. When I am about to tear up, I sit in front of the altar at home, but I don’t look at my daughter’s photograph because I’m scared of thinking too much about the incident.
As time passes, I am reminded less of the incident compared to immediately afterward. But my longing for my daughter becomes stronger by the year.
Before my daughter became a crime victim, I had never imagined I would get involved in a criminal case. I had been thinking nothing like that would ever happen to me.
What do you think of the intense media attention around crime victims and their families?
When I first learned of what had happened to my daughter and went to the police station, the place was already filled with reporters. Our house was also surrounded by numerous reporters so I decided not to go home that day and stayed at a relative’s house.
Since I didn’t return home that day, reporters went around to interview my neighbors. Later, I visited the neighbors to apologize for causing them trouble.
There was a case one day when I returned home and saw a reporter waiting for me. I was exhausted and told the reporter to come back the next day, but the person never gave up and seemed insistent on getting even a word from me. I couldn’t see why the reporter couldn’t wait even a day nor try to understand my feelings.
Based on my own experiences, I strongly feel that media organizations should follow the wishes of crime victims and their families and refrain from interviewing them if they refuse to talk.
Some people feel like talking as time passes. I began to feel I have to accept media interviews after I launched a campaign for a petition seeking the death penalty for the perpetrators and wanted many people to know about what I was doing.
Interviewing victims is necessary because only they know what they experienced and feel. That’s why I want media organizations to convey the suffering of the victims to many people, but I also want them to be careful and not force victims to speak.
Investigations by police and prosecutors can sometimes be a burden on victims. What about you?
Sometimes it was tough. When investigators questioned me, they behaved like they wanted to draw up a report quickly rather than caring about my feelings. They were too focused on compiling the report that their way of speaking and attitudes were businesslike.
This might be an everyday event for investigators, but it is not for the families of the deceased. I want them to act from our point of view.
Some investigators were considerate. Since the perpetrators were men, I wanted to know if my daughter had been sexually abused, but I was too afraid to ask.
Then one senior investigator said, “Your daughter was alright. Her clothes weren’t disheveled.” I was glad to hear that.
The investigator visits my daughter’s grave on the anniversary of her death every year. This year, the investigator didn’t make the visit due to the spread of COVID-19 infections, but I received flowers instead.
Media organizations such as newspaper companies disclose victims’ names in principle, but criticism arose over reporting of the names of victims in the Kyoto studio arson case.
At the time of my daughter’s death, it was a matter of course for media outlets to disclose victims’ names. I appreciated it because many people came to my daughter’s funeral without being informed by us.
In the Kyoto arson case, some families asked that the name be disclosed and others wanted the victims to remain anonymous.
I can understand why some want to remain anonymous. Even if they don’t want the names to be disclosed right after the incident, they might change their mind with time. It depends on each family whether or not they want the victim’s name to be disclosed and when. I want media outlets to respect their wishes.
Ordinances were recently set up to support crime victims in response to calls from bereaved families, including one in Mie Prefecture that provides condolence payments and one in Nagoya that offers funds and meal deliveries. But Aichi Prefecture does not have such an ordinance.
I definitely hope such an ordinance is created in Aichi as well. But relying on ordinances means there will be differences in the kind of support you can get depending on where you live, and that shouldn’t be the case.
I want the central government to establish a support system so that people can get the same assistance everywhere.
There is a one-stop support center for crime victims in Saitama Prefecture. I wish there was such a one-stop counter in Aichi so that victims of various crimes can receive support without having to go back and forth to a number of places.
Currently, even if families of murder victims win compensation in a civil trial, there is no way for them to obtain money from offenders if the offenders fail to pay. And the right to be compensated based on a civil suit ruling expires in 10 years, meaning the families have to file a lawsuit again if they are not paid by then.
The current system is nothing but a burden to victims. There should be a system through which the government compensates victims’ families when offenders don’t make the payments and claims the expenses to the offenders.
There have been campaigns in recent years calling for more support for perpetrators’ families, claiming they are also put in the position of victims.
I have never received apologies from the parents of the men who killed my daughter. I may sound harsh but since there are perpetrators’ families who aren’t apologetic about what happened, I have to say they shouldn’t be treated as victims.
From the standpoint of the family of a murder victim, I think perpetrators’ families being criticized from the public is a part of the atonement they have to make.
Support for crime victims is still very insufficient.
This section features topics and issues from the Chubu region covered by the Chunichi Shimbun. The original article was published Nov. 25.
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