Establish adequate system to provide relief after crimes

Victims of crimes and bereaved families can suffer severe physical and mental harm, making it difficult to rebuild their lives. It is necessary to reconsider whether current support measures are sufficient.

The new National Association of Crime Victims and Surviving Families, commonly known as Shin Asu-no-Kai, has been established. The predecessor of the association, Asu-no-Kai, was dissolved in 2018 mainly due to the aging of its members, but it was decided that the group would resume its activities for the first time in about four years.

The Basic Law on Crime Victims was enacted in 2004, and after that a system was introduced in which victims are allowed to directly question defendants in criminal trials. The statute of limitations for serious crimes such as murder was also abolished. The association played a significant role in establishing the rights of victims.

However, a system to support the lives of victims and bereaved families after crimes occur cannot be said to be sufficient even now. Victims of murder and other crimes get crime victim benefits from the government. However, in a past case involving a married man who was in his prime when he was killed, his wife received only ¥1.25 million.

“I cried every day but still had to work to survive,” the wife said. The resumption of the association’s activities may be motivated by a strong desire to change such a system.

Family members of victims of a fatal arson attack at a mental health clinic in Kitashinchi, Osaka City, last year are also calling on the government to review the system. They said that as the benefits are calculated based on the victims’ incomes immediately before the incident, there are concerns that the amount paid to victims on leave from work could be low.

According to the National Police Agency, the average amount of benefits received by bereaved families in fiscal 2021 was ¥6.64 million. This is only about a quarter of the ¥24 million on average that is paid in compulsory automobile liability insurance when a person dies in a traffic accident.

Compulsory automobile liability insurance is funded by premiums paid mainly by car owners. Although the insurance benefits are different from those the government provides for crime victims and bereaved families, the gap in the amount is too large.

Some crime victims can no longer work because of the trauma of the incidents. In some cases, their homes become crime scenes, making it difficult to continue living there. Even if victims file claims for damages, the perpetrators might be unable to pay, so the victims have no choice but to accept the situation in many cases.

It is important for the government to listen carefully to the parties concerned and consider the appropriateness of the method of calculating benefits, while also getting expert opinions.

In Nordic countries, there is a system in which the state compensates crime victims on behalf of perpetrators, and seeks damages from the perpetrators. Such a system could be a useful reference.

It takes as long as about nine months on average from the time of application to the decision to grant benefits to victims of crime. This makes it difficult to get through the distressing period immediately after a crime. There is also an urgent need to review the operation of the system.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 1, 2022)