Survey: Almost 50% of prisoners in Japan victims of abuse at home


A survey in Japan has found a possible link between childhood abuse and later law-breaking. Data shows that around half of some 500 male prisoners in their 20s and 30s have been on the receiving end of abuse at home.

The result of a survey by a research group which includes staff at Chiba University suggests that there is often a history of childhood trauma behind criminal behaviour.

Kyoko Hazama, a professor in delinquency and criminal psychology at Chiba University, distributed questionnaires to 580 men in prisons in eastern Japan’s Kanto region between May and October 2017. In total, 498 responded.

Among them, 243 (48.8%) said they had experienced abuse. In subsequent questions which allowed for multiple answers, 34.1% of them said they had been subject to physical abuse such as being hit, 31.3% had been emotionally abused such as by being spoken to nastily, 15.1% had experienced neglect, and 3% had been sexually abused.

A 2002 survey by the Research and Training Institute of the Ministry of Justice asked 15,000 ordinary people whether they had been abused by family members before the age of 18. Of them, 21.7% said they had. Because the ministry’s and the research team’s survey formats differ, it’s difficult to make clear comparisons, but it appears the abuse rate is higher among people in prison.

When asked how they dealt with the abuse, the most commonly chosen answer at 56.8% was that they endured it. Among the other responses, 50.6% said they left home, and 30% said they tried not to think about it. Just 13.2% said they talked to someone about it.

When the data on inmates who had committed serious crimes such as murder were considered separately, an even larger proportion of this group had a history of being abused mentally than the survey group as a whole.

According to professor Hazama, there is data in the West pointing to a link between physical abuse and violent criminal acts, but there needs to be further investigation into whether the results in Japan are specific to this country or not.

The research group also conducted face-to-face interviews with 18 prisoners who had committed serious crimes and who had suffered abuse. Only one of them said they had sought support when they were being abused. Another 13 said they either didn’t or couldn’t look for help. Their reasons as to why included not wanting to show weakness, and that they couldn’t trust anyone.

Whilst acknowledging there are many people who suffer abuse that do not go on to commits crimes, professor Hazama speculated on the process that starts from experiencing abuse to serious criminal acts, saying, “The suppressed emotions (of those who commit crimes after being abused in childhood) may suddenly emerge explosively after people are unable to escape abuse and are forced to endure it without help.”

She said that improving counselling support and other initiatives that keep in mind that experiences of being abused have led prisoners and those released from incarceration to distrust others and act problematically will lead to preventing some from re-offending.

Hiroshi Ogiso, a professor in children’s welfare at Tokyo Management College and an expert in issues around childhood abuse, said, “In Japan, measures to prevent abuse of children, delinquency and criminality are not cohesive, so they should be brought together. Support that prevents both adults and children from becoming isolated is necessary.” (Source: Mainichi Japan)