Tragedy of stalked Japanese teenager forces police to act

Outrage over bungled handling of harassment is too late for schoolgirl killed by her ex-boyfriend

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 October, 2013, 2:46am

Fiercely criticised after failing to prevent a stalker from murdering his target, police and judicial authorities across Japan are suddenly making more visible efforts to deal with harassment that can turn violent.

Schoolgirl Saaya Suzuki, 18, was stabbed to death at her home in western Tokyo on October 8. Her attacker, Charles Ikenaga, was lying in wait in Suzuki's house and stabbed her five times with a knife he had bought after arriving from his home in Kyoto about 10 days earlier.

The budding actress had reported Ikenaga, her former boyfriend, to her local police station after their relationship broke down and he began to threaten her. She had already blocked his phone calls and e-mail messages.

Just before Suzuki was killed, a policeman phoned her to confirm that she had safely arrived home. Ikenaga, 21, told investigators he had been hiding in a closet in Suzuki's bedroom and heard the conversation.

The bungling of the case may have spurred authorities into action.

On Tuesday, police in Miyazaki, southern Japan, arrested a nursing assistant after he allegedly sent 180 e-mails to a former girlfriend, demanding that she kill herself.

Masashi Hidaka, 33, also reportedly posted messages on websites that caused his 25-year-old victim to believe that he was watching her movements.

The same day, the Tokyo District Court accepted a request from prosecutors not to name a teenage girl in a bid to protect her from further abuse from a man who allegedly molested her on a train and then started following her. The girl was 14 when she was assaulted and followed for two months.

But the apparent new sense of determination from authorities comes too late for Suzuki.

Condemnation of the handling of her case has been swift. It emerged that a policeman dismissed the magnitude of Suzuki's concerns and one of her teachers just days before the attack because the officer said the force was not able to deal with non-urgent cases on weekends. The officer failed to inform a senior officer.

A message left on Ikenaga's mobile phone asking him to report to the police station may also have angered him.

"Even though police had received complaints from the victim, they failed to offer her sufficient protection," the Mainichi newspaper said in an editorial. "Interviews with law-enforcement sources and school officials suggest that the police did not act with sufficient urgency, even though stalking cases can often escalate into serious crimes."

Police sources were quoted by Kyodo News as saying that Suzuki's injuries "indicate a relentless attack, despite the victim's attempts to flee, showing clear intent to murder".

In the first eight months of last year, police across Japan issued alleged stalkers with 1,511 warnings, more than the record high of 1,384 warnings issued in all of 2007.

Revised stalking laws were put into effect early this month, explicitly making it an offence to make threats by e-mail.

They also empower police to ban perpetrators from areas where their victims live or work. It appears that it is taking time for police to make use of the new powers at their disposal.