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Friday, April 11, 2008

Mihashi case throws light on domestic violence

Staff writer

Her nose broken, her face bruised and bleeding internally, Kaori Mihashi sought protection at a shelter in Tokyo in June 2005. She told officials there her injuries were the result of repeated assaults by her husband in their upscale Tokyo condo.

Eighteen months after that frantic getaway, Mihashi, who had returned to live with her husband after spending several weeks at the shelter, slammed a wine bottle against his head as he slept. She then cut his corpse into five chunks and disposed of them around the capital.

"My husband began beating me in April 2003, about a week after we got married," the 33-year-old said last month when she took the stand for the first time in her Tokyo District Court trial for killing Yusuke Mihashi and dismembering his body.

"I just wanted to get away from everything," she said in tears as she recounted her state of mind that fateful night.

Public awareness toward domestic violence has grown since the implementation in October 2001 of the Domestic Violence Law. Reported cases reached an all-time high of 20,992 last year, according to the National Police Agency.

The NPA says 98.6 percent of the victims are women, who are most likely to be in their 30s. Experts say further efforts by the government, including providing better public services for victims, are vital if domestic violence is going to be reduced.

Mihashi's testimony put a spotlight on the suffering, which at times is not limited to physical abuse, that many domestic violence victims undergo.

Mihashi told the court that during an argument in August 2003, her husband dragged her across the floor by her hair and sat on her. She testified that he tied her to a chair after she tried to flee, and took her credit cards and wallet.

Yet, in explaining why she returned after each escape, Mihashi said she felt it was her responsibility to endure the violence because she "was the one who chose to marry him."

Toshiko Ota, director of Josei Soudan Center, a counseling office for women run by the Tokyo Metropolitan Government, said there are limits to what aid groups can do for victims of domestic violence because protection can be offered only if the victim asks for it.

According to Ota, many woman seek advice at the center but eventually return home to their abusive husbands "mostly out of concern for their children or because their husbands usually come to visit them and apologize."

Before the women go back to their husbands, the center tells them there are other options, including legal protection.

"But unlike minors being abused, our clients are adult women and will ultimately decide (what to do) for themselves," Ota said.

Under the latest revision of the Domestic Violence Law, which took effect in January, those found to be abusing their partner are not allowed to demand meetings with the victim against their will or phone them at night.

Courts can also issue orders to abusers not to stalk their spouses who have left and sought protection.

The revised law stipulates that not only people actually suffering from physical violence but those who have been verbally threatened with hints of abuse are also eligible for protection.

Doubts, however, remain over the law's effectiveness and how it can assist women by ending the cycle of violence.

Suggesting the increase in reported abuses means a growing number of people are actively calling out for help, Ota called for more public services to be made available so victims who remain silent will be more apt to come forward.

Providing advice may not be sufficient to solve the problem, but requesting help from a third party is the pivotal step if victims are going to halt the violence, she said.

"Its imperative that the government continue to promote its services for women suffering from violence, including continued efforts to establish more counseling centers," Ota said.

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The Japan Times

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