The families of victims of stalking murders, including a 21-year-old coed killed in 1999 in Okegawa, Saitama Prefecture, have submitted to authorities a written request for a legal revision to establish a more effective system to protect stalking victims.
Their action was triggered by a stalking case that led to the murder of two people in Saikai, Nagasaki Prefecture, late last year.
In that case, a woman who was stalked by a former boyfriend repeatedly reported the harassment to local police. But the police failed to take action, and the woman’s mother and grandmother were killed by the stalker.
Many similar mistakes have been made by police officers in the past.
It is glaringly obvious that law-enforcement authorities must change their attitude toward the problem and become more eager to investigate such cases and protect victims.
But that alone would not be enough. As the bereaved families say, the legal system to protect stalking victims needs to be improved.
Under the current system, victims of stalking have no legal means to protect themselves if police fail to take action.
Many people may believe that stalkers are mostly creepy strangers who sneakily hang around people. The fact is, however, that 80 percent of stalkers are the victims' acquaintances. People with whom the victims have a prior or current personal relationship account for half of the stalkers.
This kind of stalker often employs violence and/or makes threats against people who refuse to obey them. Experts have argued that many stalking cases are similar in nature to cases of domestic violence against spouses covered by the domestic violence prevention law.
But the anti-stalking law is quite different from the domestic violence prevention law with respect to the system to protect victims.
The DV prevention law allows victims to file for restraining orders and other protective measures with a district court.
The anti-stalking law also has a provision for prohibition orders. But the law requires police to file for such orders with the local public safety commission.
When a third-party organization files for such an order on behalf of a victim, the sense of urgency is inevitably much weaker than in a case where the victim takes the action in person.
Some 2,000 DV-related protection orders are issued annually by courts, while only about 50 orders are issued for the sake of victims of stalking.
It is clear which system is more effective for protecting victims.
The anti-stalking law should be revised to allow victims to seek legal protection on their own if police fail to act.
Some people are probably concerned that they might be unjustly accused of stalking if victims are allowed to file for protection orders on their own. But the DV prevention law provides for procedures for checking the validity of the claims made by potential victims.
The law requires the court to listen to the accused as well.
Victims are required to consult with offices established by the prefectural governments or police before filing for protection orders. There is also a provision for punishing those who submit false applications for court orders.
Protection orders in domestic violence cases are not criminal penalties. They are preventive measures to provide immediate protection for people who claim to be in danger from violent acts by the accused.
But they are very effective. In most cases of domestic violence and stalking, the defendants obey such orders, according to a survey.
In order to prevent as many cases of stalking as possible from resulting in more serious crimes, a system needs to be established to ensure that effective actions are taken swiftly in response to requests for help from victims.
--The Asahi Shimbun, May 23
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