Editorials

The danger of social isolation

The terrible results of social isolation were evident in a new study by the Justice Ministry of 52 of the most violent attacks in Japan between 2000 and 2009. By examining the indiscriminate attacks, the study found that 33 of 52 perpetrators of random attacks had poor or nonexistent social relationships and that more than 40 percent had attempted suicide before their attacks.

This study was the first to examine the living conditions of such perpetrators and the first to suggest realistic measures to help prevent random attacks. While the reasons behind the horrifying attacks that have occurred in Japan’s primary schools, train stations and public streets can perhaps never be fully known, the study did help fill in the picture concerning at-risk individuals that can lead to prevention in the future.

The percentage of perpetrators who attempted suicide before carrying out an attack was 44.2 percent. Other problematic pre-offense behaviors of those convicted included drug abuse, other violent acts, self-isolation and gambling. While those behaviors are difficult to eliminate, and do not in themselves always lead to serious crimes later, they are often the harbinger of crises for which individuals should seek help at hospitals or on hotlines.

As for motives, 42.3 percent of perpetrators who committed random attacks cited dissatisfaction over personal circumstances, with another 19.2 percent saying they re-targeted their anger at specific people or unrelated victims. The desire to be sent to prison and the desire to die were also cited by many perpetrators.

The circumstances of the attackers’ lives were also revealing. Eighty-one percent did not have a job at the time of their crime, and 60 percent had no income at all.

Stopping future attacks depends not so much on simply removing those conditions and motivations as on recognizing that such behavior often leads individuals to seek help at some point. A better system for suicide prevention is an important first step. Suicide hotlines and counseling centers are important front-line resources for identifying individuals who need help. Increased funding for such programs is urgently needed.

The study also proposed greater cooperation among agencies, consultation services, doctors and hospitals. One of the clear conclusions of the study was that these individuals perhaps could have received assistance before the attacks if they had been referred to appropriate doctors or treatment centers.

Greater cooperation among these diverse centers, services and facilities is essential if such individuals are going to be identified and given the help they need at an early stage.

Japan is often viewed as a cohesive society with strong social bonds. However, these social bonds often break down for certain individuals, leading to tragic consequences. Communities should take concrete steps to identify any residents who have become isolated and reach out to them in a timely manner.

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