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Dragging child abuse out into the open

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If you had asked a Japanese 20 years ago about child abuse, chances are you would have been told there was no such thing in Japan. It is hard to believe that even as recently as that, the favored way to “solve” a problem was to hide it. And child abuse was particularly well hidden, wrapped in the sanctity of “the family” and its time-honored prerogatives.

If we know better today, it is due in large part to a freelance journalist named Atsuko Shiina. It was around 1988, she tells Shukan Economist (Sept 21) in an interview, that she read a rare newspaper report of parental maltreatment that ended in the child’s death. Shocked into investigating further, she found… very little. There were no Internet search engines then. Bookstores had nothing on the subject. Scouring medical libraries, she had somewhat better luck. Doctors had begun observing and documenting the phenomenon in the 1970s. But medical reports do not reach the general public.

Child psychologists and surgeons had begun putting two and two together. Retarded physical and mental development in some cases, telltale bone fractures in others, aroused suspicions of something sinister going on beneath the surface. That for years these suspicions were scarcely acted upon is partly a matter of squeamishness, partly a matter of law.

Japan’s signing in 1994 of the U.N. Convention of the Rights of the Child helped the public understand, Shiina explains, that “children are not their parents’ private property.” Even so, passage of a Child Abuse Prevention Law took until 2000. The law empowers child welfare investigators to enter a home where abuse is suspected, and to oblige citizens to report possible abuse to local authorities.

A book Shiina wrote about her research in 1994 became the basis for a best-selling manga that generated “a mountain of letters.”

“I never even knew [before I read the manga] that what I went through was abuse,” wrote one victim, now grown. Shiina also heard from desperate parents. “At this rate, I’ll end up murdering the child,” said one mother in a frantic phone call. “I’m going to jump off a building and kill myself.”

Shiina found herself becoming an unofficial consultant, recommending counselors and child psychologists, visiting mothers hospitalized for stress, and so on.

In 2009, child consultation centers nationwide handled 44,210 cases of child abuse. The number rises in tandem with stress, economic failure and social isolation. This past summer, there occurred a particularly horrifying episode: a 23-year-old single mother allegedly abandoned her two toddlers, aged three and one, to starve to death in an Osaka apartment.

Shiina seeks understanding rather than vilification. As part of the title of her book puts it, “There’s nothing more difficult than being a parent.”

“If there had been someone the young woman could have turned to for help,” she tells Shukan Economist, “tragedy could have been averted.”

© Japan Today

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

31 Comments
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Drag it, rape, DV, child porn and all other things that people just let go with a "shoganai" attitude. Japan is shocking with all of the above and the only way to solve it really is by international attention to the issues. Until then, they'll bury their head in the sand and ignore the issue. Certainly the laws aren't helping matters by giving parents suspended sentences and letting them get away with murder and abuse.

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I met a Japanese woman 8 years ago who worked in a Child sexual assault call center. What she told me made my blood run cold. Horrific.

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Drag it, rape, DV, child porn and all other things that people just let go with a "shoganai" attitude.

Its more like the realization of what a can of worms one can open with this. Is a kid just a crybaby or are his parents abusing him? Its pretty hard to tell, but it seems to me that 9 times out of ten, he is just a crybaby. And if you get a squad together to start invading homes on those odds you will be doing a lot of ghost hunting. And pretty soon you will be taking hundreds of kids from their parents on the basis of an anonymous phone call. Yeah, it has happened.

I am as down on child abuse as anyone. We do need investigative orgs and especially available counseling and support (more than home invasions and slap-dash removals of custody) But the people who are gung-ho about stamping out child abuse are very dangerous to society. They would make a police state to stamp out simple spankings. We need to keep them on a leash.

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Its pretty hard to tell

When a 2-year-old comes in multiple times with broken bones and cigarette burns on his or her body, no, it is not pretty hard to tell. When a 10-year-old weighs as much as a 5-year-old, no, it's not pretty hard to tell. And believe it or not, even Japanese officials (doctors, nurses, teachers, and cops) can sense the difference between a crybaby and an abused child.

Yeah, it has happened.

In Japan? Which is what this is article is referring to.

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This happened 30 years ago. An interesting fact is that when anyone -cafeteria work to superintendent - suspected that a child had been physically, mentally or sexually abuse, that person was required by law to report it to the police or a child protective agency. The result was a 50% increase in reports and who knows how many children were protected. That brings the police or appropriate agency into the school, which may be the reason principals do not want to admit to abuse in the school or in the homes.

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space_monkey at 07:39 AM JST - 22nd September I met a Japanese woman 8 years ago who worked in a Child sexual assault call center. What she told me made my blood run cold. Horrific.

Welcome to the world of people who work with children. As one of my friends (a child psychologist) told me once, "If you like children then don't get involved in this field, it'll break you, heart and soul.".

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In the USA, we refer to columns like that as "attempting to create a foster care panic".

Which means articles that encourage people to report suspected abuse create a PANIC of reporting.

Nothing good lies down that path.

Here in the USA, the system is completely out of control, manned by insolent and malfeasant monsters, and a court system that follows no such thing as Due Process. The accusation is the evidence, and parents cannot prove a Negative- that NOTHING HAPPENED.

It's a nightmare.

Leonard Henderson, co-founder American Family Rights http://familyrights.us

Moderator: The subject is Japan, not the U.S.

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Leonard, evidently you made an account just to tell us all about a bad situation in America. But if you haven't got anything to contribute to the discussion in JAPAN, or you don't have any knowledge or experience of the Japanese system, please refrain from making any comments here. You clearly don't understand that Japan is a country where family trouble is swept under the rug and where ACCOUNTABILITY for abuse is completely absent. I watched many Japanese teachers roughing up students in various physical and mental ways and it always made me feel dirty to be associated with it. I stopped what I could.

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borscht said: When a 2-year-old comes in multiple times with broken bones and cigarette burns on his or her body, no, it is not pretty hard to tell.

Gee, thanks for that Sherlock. Its hardly relevant to my comment is it? My point was that hearing a kid crying in the house next door raises a lot of suspicion, but its usually not abuse, even when the kid cries chronically. I have had several scares over the years and suspected neighbors, but it turned out to just be a crybaby.

In Japan? Which is what this is article is referring to.

What is your problem? Of course it was not Japan because Japan is just now opening the can of worms. I am telling you what can happen on the basis of people who have already been there. Or don't the Japanese count as people to you?

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saborichan said: You clearly don't understand that Japan is a country where family trouble is swept under the rug and

And you clearly don't understand that that sort of behavior has been practiced everywhere at some time. Talk to your grandparents, and they will tell you the way it was...just like Japan is now...child abuse was swept under the rug to keep the community harmony.

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Attempts to nationalize child abuse does no favor to either the abuser or the abused. Child abuse is clearly caused by a mental illness in the caregiver, and these mental illnesses know no borders. Hope lies in greater social awareness, in reporting and investigating, in giving aid to both sides - long-term aid, so that a productive family bond may be salvaged for the good of all.

Don't sling insults. Offer care.

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'Child abuse is clearly caused by a mental illness in the caregiver'--Mental illness in the caretaker is one risk factor for child abuse but certainly not the only one. Domestic abuse, alcohol/drug abuse, lack of parenting skills, caretaker was previously abused, lack of support and the stress of raising children are all factors that have to be considered.

Obviously under-reporting is not good but neither is over-reporting and many parents end up being falsely accused. However, if you are gonna err a bit in one direction, shouldn't it be in slightly over-reporting?

I mean, social services don't have to be breaking down doors when a neighbour claims that a child has been crying next door, but when a doctor or teacher is noticing that a child is underfed, has bruises or other injuries often then yeah, social services should be investigating.

I remember hearing in a previous article that they only went to two homes or something. Clearly they need to be checking out more of these reported child abuses cases and more carefully.

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Mist: You really didn't get the point of what I was saying at all, did you?

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Newsflash: If the parents have been properly taking care of the children, there's no need to be breaking down any doors (which seems to be MistWizard's favorite form of scare tactic). A knock on the door brings a parent to the door, who lets the agency representatives in to see the child. Even if the child is just a "crybaby", the representatives can determine that right there with no destruction of private property.

The only time doors are going to be broken down is if no one opens the door and there is crying on the other side. This would happen if the parents/caregivers are gone (neglect), passed out due to alchohol/drugs (neglect), or dead (still neglect, but kind of unavoidable). In all three cases, at least the child(ren) can be removed from that dangerous situation and properly cared for.

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Nobody wants to present anything to the public that is embarrassing. Schools call the police only as a final act instead of the first. Anyone who identifies child abuse in any form and does not report it the proper authorities, needs to know that he or she is a coward and is now a participant in the abuse.

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And you clearly don't understand that that sort of behavior has been practiced everywhere at some time. Talk to your grandparents, and they will tell you the way it was...just like Japan is now...child abuse was swept under the rug to keep the community harmony.

That is such a typical straw man argument. That doesn't mean we don't need to be aware and be vigilant. I totally disagree with your previous statement, yeah, sure you can make the argument that everywhere you have cases of child abuse or people abusing children all over the world, but we're talking about Japan where it is a problem and because it was swept under the rug for so long, now the can of worms ARE opened and rightfully so, I think more needs to be done, attention and education are essential to curbing violence. We should be careful, but if I hear in my neighborhood a child moan, scream and cry constantly, I'm sorry, I might pick up the phone and call the police, for me-I'd rather be safe, than sorry. We shouldn't knock down peoples door and be the Gestapo, but scrutinizing "certain individuals" to prevent a child from being abused is NOT necessarily a bad thing. I know a few people that grew up in abused homes and that kind of feeling and neglect stays with you, something you always remember.

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All child abusers should be whipped with a cane 10 time and be thrown into jail for at least 20 years. I can`t see how people can abuse children. They are so evil and should not be granted the opportunity to have kids in the first place.

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When a 2-year-old comes in multiple times with broken bones and cigarette burns on his or her body, no, it is not pretty hard to tell. When a 10-year-old weighs as much as a 5-year-old, no, it's not pretty hard to tell.

Thankyou doctor.

I look forward to reading your published research papers on the topic. Your years of expert analysis should not be kept from the public for a moment longer.

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I look forward to reading your published research papers on the topic. Your years of expert analysis should not be kept from the public for a moment longer.

Um - so what are you saying? Only people who have "years of expert analysis" can determine when a child is being abused or not? People like, doctors for example??! Borscht is absolutely right, in most cases it IS pretty easy for a doctor to tell when a child is being abused.

My 4 year old is a nightmare right now, constantly testing my boundaries and crying when he doesnt get his own way. He is also covered in bruises like most adventurous 4 year old boys that jump off walls and ride their bikes too fast. I took him to the paediatrician recently for a shot, and showed him all the bruises and swore blind I am not abusing him! The doctor laughed and said "Its OK, we can tell the difference between normal activity and sinister injuries. I would think there was a problem if you brought me a 4 year old boy who DIDN`T have cuts and bruises on his legs!".

And @Mistwizard - just because your grandparents generation swept it under the carpet YEARS ago just like Japan is NOW doesn`t make it right. I am totally against gestapo-like tactics and removing children from parents unnecessarily. I am however TOTALLY for breaking a door down to get to a crying child when no-one answers.

I am surprised there is even a law allowing social workers to do this, because I was under the impression in the Osaka case that they DID go to the apartment, heard the children crying, but went away because no-one answered the door. If only they had broken the door down.

I think bringing all this out into the open is a good thing, because I feel that the one thing fuelling the problem here in Japan all these years is the attitude that children are somehow parents "property", combined with the tendency to sweep everything under the rug, and distinct lack of punishment in proven cases.

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Um - so what are you saying? Only people who have "years of expert analysis" can determine when a child is being abused or not?

Um - no. I was actually being sardonic towards a fairly banal comment. For some people on this site, spotting abuse victims is far easier than spotting irony.

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Child abuse will decrease when the number of eyes increase and open. School can start by letting every school employee know that he or she is punishable by jail time for not reporting child abuse. Is there such a law in Japan? If not, why not?

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I see a big generational gap in how it is handled in both the school and health departments. This is a good thing. However the communication between the two departments is not good. I do believe that geographical areas will vary. Ive had phone calls placed on me to the health dept. The health dept authorities visited once. I wouldnt let them see the kids, until my hy husband was here, because they were so pushy, but I also told them to contact the school. They-same young guy, with different older lady- came again, without having contacted the school. The young guy was at fault. My language ability was a blessing. The elder lady was nice, and was happy to leave. The problem was a different dept in the health dept, had visited us days earlier, and there wasnt information being passed in between the 2 parts of the health dept. Also, the local political body's rep. visited our place once with our teachers. No-one seemed to have passed around that information either. Everything is cool for us. But I would say a lack of communication runs things the wrong ways. There is a fine line, a very difficult one. I really think case by case. Children and parents need a environment they can become family.

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Um - no. I was actually being sardonic towards a fairly banal comment. For some people on this site, spotting abuse victims is far easier than spotting irony.

Actually, the sardonic irony was easily spotted. What was missed was WHY you were using that method. Borscht's comment was not "banal" and was a direct reply to someone else's off-the-wall post.

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Children crying is normal, in fact if a child does not cry it usually means he's mentally retarded for life. What does crying have anything to do with child abuse? Stop trivializing a serious issue.

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Fadamor said: Actually, the sardonic irony was easily spotted. What was missed was WHY you were using that method. Borscht's comment was not "banal" and was a direct reply to someone else's off-the-wall post.

In fact, that post was quite banal and was THE off the wall post. All I did was urge people to be cautious and not go handing super-judicial powers to irrational zealots.

A knock on the door brings a parent to the door, who lets the agency representatives in to see the child.

Isn't that already being done?

The only time doors are going to be broken down is if no one opens the door and there is crying on the other side.

How very reassuring! I am sure no one will get gung-ho because Fadamor has spoken!

My advice is to go back and read my comments. All I did was urge being careful and learning from the history of others who have been on the same road. It also helps to not be all self-righteous. Some kids need help, but other kids don't need a random "heroes" delusions of grandeur.

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In fact, that post was quite banal and was THE off the wall post. All I did was urge people to be cautious and not go handing super-judicial powers to irrational zealots.

Hmm I must have missed the part of the discussion where it was proposed that "irrational zealots" should be given "super-judicial powers (whatever THOSE are). Or was that just you applying labels at random?

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When a 2-year-old comes in multiple times with broken bones and cigarette burns on his or her body, no, it is not pretty hard to tell. When a 10-year-old weighs as much as a 5-year-old, no, it's not pretty hard to tell.

In case anyone's forgotten, THAT was the post that MistWizard thinks is "off-the-wall". You decide.

Isn't that already being done?

Well, we know they knock on the doors, it's what happens afterwards (when someone does or doesn't answer the door) that's the question, isn't it?

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Please check out the work of Operation Safe a Japan based charity making children safer all around the world

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@Fadamor: Don't mind mistwizard, he's lost in the fog of his own rhetoric. He is never wrong, so goes his song. As for your approach Fadamor, yes, children need protecting. I truly do react with horror when I hear of or see children being smacked, beaten or called 'stupid', 'idiot' etcetera. Love your children and they'll be fine. We don't beat down on other members of society, do we? Why inflict violence against children? It is wrong.

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I've been fighting a hard up hill battle trying to do this and I for one am so happy that it's finally being brought out into the open. Japanese seem to think that ignoring a problem will make it go away. I've never seen such a passive society in all of the many countries I've visited. The sad thing is I actually live HERE and wanted to see something done about it. Bravo to Miss Shiina for getting the ball rolling but I still think there is much more work to be done.

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If a child is crying chronically then it is not just a trivial thing.. it is a clue that too many people choose to overlook. Before i was adopted i was not allowed to be heard crying. While i am certain that thought excited 1 of the regular commenters in this thread it should be a sign to the others that something very wrong was happening - but we are taught to keep such things hidden.

Some people always ask so where was your father when you were being beaten or locked in the furoba? Otousan was busy working hard to provide us with our apartment and food and clothes.. he took business trips that kept him away for weeks and when he does come home you hide such things from otousan, you do not wish to upset your chichi do you? Just because you were such an awful child? You never speak of it at school or to friends.. scars from being beaten are shameful to be seen, so you hide them. It was not until i was finally sick and in hospital in mai 16th year that someone there examined me and decided that the old scars and mai silence were signs of abuse - it was a horrible year and it finally ended in the destruction of mai family - for that I was blamed, and me being adopted and brought to live in USA.

But oh no no, do not speak of it! Say it is nothing, pretend it is just a "crybaby" ne? How SICK is the commenter who wishes to blame the child for crying "9 times out of 10" - If a child is crying in a home and nobody is answering the door then the police need to be called because they have the authority to enter property.

Do not give social workers more 'power' but instead give them better connection.. better connection with police and better connection with courts and better connection with hospitals and with schools and with the media so that what is and is not abuse becomes better understood and people become aware of the proper way they SHOULD react to child abuse when they suspect it.

As people become more aware and better educated there will be some false accusations (but it will NEVER be mass hysteria) then let the people who are trained to know child abuse decide if the report is real or not.

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