Young girls with disabilities sexually abused in transport vehicles by day service workers

“He had a serious work attitude. It never occurred to me that he had such intentions,” the 74-year-old head of an after-school day service in the Kanto region told The Yomiuri Shimbun in early September.

The official was referring to a male worker in his 40s who was arrested several years ago on suspicion of forced indecent acts on girls with intellectual disabilities and other charges.

A Yomiuri Shimbun investigation has discovered a rash of such crimes committed by workers at after-school day services for minors with disabilities, many of which occurred in the transport vehicles used for pickup and drop-off services.

Offenders take advantage of the situation to abuse users unable to get the facilities on their own due to their disabilities.

A national survey by The Yomiuri Shimbun revealed that at least 25 workers of such after-school day services are suspected of having committed sexually indecent acts on 39 minors between fiscal 2016 and 2020.

It is difficult to screen out potential offenders. At his job interview with the Kanto region day service, the man who would later be arrested enthusiastically said, “I want to do work related to child welfare.”

The man had previous experience working at a facility for youth with disabilities, and was hired as the facility was dealing with a staff shortage.

Upon beginning work, the man continually hovered near only the girls in the facility, and was later reassigned to a job that did not involve contact with the children.

One day, however, the man boarded the transport vehicle for facility users, ostensibly as an assistant to the driver but without being assigned as such. Sitting behind the driver’s seat, he proceeded to grope a girl’s lower body, which he recorded on video.

The crime was revealed after the girl told her parents about the incident later at home. The man was found to have also committed indecent acts on three other girls, and was sentenced to seven years in prison on a range of charges.

The head of the facility apologized, saying: “I deeply apologize to the victims. We intend to make efforts not to let this happen again.”

Undetected for 18 months

Similar incidences during pickup and drop-off services have occurred in many other places.

A former certified childcare worker in his 30s employed at an after-school day care service facility in Shizuoka Prefecture committed and video-recorded indecent acts on three girls with intellectual or other disabilities while transporting them between 2019 and 2020.

He continued his crimes for 18 months until being caught, and in June this year, he was sentenced to 12 years in jail by the Numazu branch of the Shizuoka District Court.

Likewise in 2019, a male worker at an after-school day service facility in Ishikawa Prefecture was found to have repeatedly committed indecent acts on six girls with disabilities aged 7 to 11 in a transport vehicle.

In July last year, he was given a seven-year jail term by the Kanazawa District Court, which, in handing down the sentence, said, “You took advantage of the nature of the girls who would have difficulty complaining about the crime, and abused your position as an employee.”

The support office for children with disabilities and people with developmental disorders of the Health, Labor and Welfare Ministry’s welfare division for persons with disabilities said it has only become aware of the problem.

“We were not aware that such indecent acts were occurring on transport vehicles. It should never happen and is extremely regrettable. We urge service providers to make efforts to thoroughly ensure employees not commit indecent acts and other forms of abuse.”

Takashi Masaki, deputy secretary-general of a national federation of after-school day service providers, said: “It is hard for children who are victims of indecent behavior to report it, and even more so for children with disabilities. As the number of facilities available to them is limited, there must be cases of victims suffering silently.

“There are structural problems with the after-school care service business, such as it is low-paying and it is easy to start a new one,” Masaki continued. “The government needs to solve these problems and implement countermeasures, such as starting a training system.”