Sexual Crimes Against Children on the RiseSociety
September 23 saw the case of Ikuta Mirei, a first grader in the city of Kobe who disappeared on September 11, take a shocking turn for the worse when the young girl’s dismembered body was discovered in a wooded area near her home. According to Hyōgo prefectural police headquarters, DNA testing confirmed that several bags discovered by patrolling officers contained the mutilated remains of the missing six-year-old. A 47-year old male suspect has since been taken into custody in connection with the abduction and murder. Ikuta’s disappearance had garnered broad national attention, with the tragic end of yet another young life thrusting violent crimes against children once again into the public eye.
On September 9, two days prior to the Kobe incident, a seventh-grade girl in Yachimata, Chiba Prefecture, was abducted at knifepoint as she headed home. The perpetrator, an unemployed 25-year-old man, then drove the victim to his residence in nearby Tomisato, releasing her an hour after taking her hostage. The victim was able to tell police the license plate number of her abductor’s car, leading to the arrest of the man on charges including abduction with the intent to defile, forcible confinement, and sexual assault.
In a similar incident on July 14, a fifth-grade girl in Kurashiki, Okayama Prefecture, was kidnapped while returning from school. An unemployed 49-year-old man was arrested on the evening of July 19 and charged with holding the 11-year-old hostage at his home, which is located in the same city. The police were able to quickly solve the kidnapping case thanks to the license plate number of a suspicious car the victim’s mother saw near the scene, as well as GPS readings from the girl’s mobile phone.
And in yet another case, a fifth grader went missing in Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, on February 11 as she walked her dog (her parents alerted police after the dog returned to the family’s home alone). Four days after her disappearance the girl was taken into custody after she telephoned police headquarters in Chigasaki, also in Kanagawa, in the early morning hours from an unattended police substation in the city. A 30-year-old male employee of an IT company in Machida, Tokyo, was arrested and charged with abducting and holding a minor captive. The man, who has a wife and children but was estranged from his family, snatched the 11-year-old girl at knifepoint, forcing her into his car and driving her to his apartment, where he held her prisoner. Even though the girl was fed and appeared to have suffered no physical harm during her captivity, the dreadful nature of the crime, with a young girl snatched off the streets in broad daylight, sent shockwaves throughout the country.
Spike in Sexual Crimes against Children
The year 2014 has seen a string of sexual assaults against minors. On January 27, a third-grade girl in Sapporo, Hokkaidō, was abducted by an unemployed 26-year-old man and held captive in his apartment for a week. While this incident ended with the victim’s safe return, similar cases have had tragic consequences.
In late 2004, the body of a seven-year-old girl who had gone missing in Nara Prefecture was discovered. A 36-year-old newspaper deliveryman was convicted of kidnapping, molesting, and drowning the girl in his bathtub. He was later put to death.
In the Nara case, child pornography and children’s underwear discovered at the assailant’s residence unmistakably showed pedophilia as the motive behind the crime. Experts are concerned over possible repercussions of easy access over the Internet to a rapidly growing quantity of such material. According to the NPA’s 2014 White Paper on Police, there were 1,117 reported cases of sexual assault against children in 2013, an increase of 63 from the previous year. Looking at figures over the last decade, 2004 and 2005 saw a large number of incidents, with 1,679 and 1,384 cases reported, respectively. A downward trend continued for several years, with 2007 seeing a record low of 907 cases. However, figures again topped the 1,000 mark in 2010, and they have remained in the four-digit range ever since.
Child Pornography Law Strengthened
In light of this trend, the National Diet moved on June 18 to outlaw the possession of child pornography with a legal revision that went into effect on July 15. In Japan, the production and distribution of child pornography was already a criminal offense, but possession was not a crime. Under the new regulations, possession of such material in any form, including digital records, is now punishable by up to one year in jail and a fine of up to ¥1 million. One exemption is animated material depicting children, which is still legal to buy and sell. The government has set a one-year grace period before the new measures take effect to give individuals time to dispose of their personal stocks.
The new law’s definition of child pornography as any material where “parts of the child’s body of sexual interest are exposed or emphasized” has been criticized by some for being unnecessarily vague, opening the way for abuse by law-enforcement authorities. Others have lauded the government’s move, pointing to the large number of child victims being preyed upon by pedophiles. According to the NPA white paper, child pornography cases are on the rise, with 2013 seeing 1,644 arrests and 646 victims, both all-time highs. Sadly, there are many more cases that go undiscovered. With so many suffering at the hands of the depraved, society must make protecting children a top priority.
(Banner photo: A father whose child was kidnapped and murdered speaks at a press conference in 2004. © Jiji)