Preventive Measures and Crackdown Efforts Needed to Tackle Stalking Scourge

The number of consultations for stalking victims has remained high at about 20,000 cases a year. As well as strengthening crackdowns on stalking, measures targeting perpetrators must be expanded to prevent harm from being caused.

Twenty years have passed since the antistalking law came into effect in the wake of the murder of a female university student in Okegawa, Saitama Prefecture. Under the law, police can issue warnings or restraining orders to perpetrators who repeatedly stalk or ambush victims and can take legal steps if their actions are deemed to be malicious.

More than 80% of perpetrators are men. Current or former boyfriends or girlfriends of the victims account for 40% of the total. Warnings and orders from the police are said to deter stalkers in many cases. It can be said that the law has had a certain deterrent effect.

However, the methods used by stalkers have become more sophisticated, and serious incidents such as the murder of victims have continued to occur. Although two amendments to the law have added mass emailing and persistent posts on social media to the list of regulations, the measures have not kept pace.

In recent years, there have been many cases of perpetrators attaching GPS equipment to vehicles without permission to monitor the movements of victims. The fear and anxiety felt by the victims must be severe. Such violations of privacy cannot be overlooked.

In July, the Supreme Court ruled that the act of tracking people with a GPS device does not constitute “surveillance” as prohibited under the current law, and did not acknowledge the illegality.

As a result, the National Police Agency is considering law amendments or other means to crack down on the act of tracking individuals with GPS devices. It is urgent to establish regulations that are in line with the changing times by grasping as soon as possible what devices and apps are being misused and the actual harm that is being caused.

The approach to the handling of perpetrators is also important to protect victims.

In recent years, police have actively encouraged perpetrators to receive treatment at medical institutions. This is because medical steps are believed to be effective in lessening their obsessions and desire for control over others, as well as preventing repeat offending.

However, as the medical treatment is not mandatory and perpetrators have to pay their own medical expenses in principle, many refuse to receive the treatment or stop it midway. Last year, a record 824 people were reportedly advised to undergo treatment, but only 15% did so.

In some municipalities, free counseling services in cooperation with medical institutions are provided, and mental health care workers go to police stations to interview perpetrators. Such efforts should be expanded. Antistalking measures comprising both crackdowns and medical treatment must continue to be implemented.

It is necessary to conduct victim consultations with empathy and make arrangements to promptly place victims under protective custody if necessary. Related entities must respond to stalking cases in a coordinated manner to prevent them from developing into serious situations.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Dec. 9, 2020.