Authorities must be swifter in the crack down of ‘revenge porn’

The case in point involved the murder of a female high-school student in Mitaka, Tokyo, in 2013. After the case was referred back from a higher court and retried under the lay-judge system, the Tachikawa branch of the Tokyo District Court recently sentenced a 23-year-old man to 22 years in prison.

Out of his lingering attachment to the girl and resentment towards her, the man not only killed the girl but had repeatedly posted images of her on the internet. Besides murder charges, he was accused of other offenses, including violating the law banning child prostitution and pornography.

With the images exposed to an indefinitely large number of people, it was difficult to remove them. It was reasonable for the ruling to condemn the man’s conduct as “an extremely vicious crime that impaired the dignity of the victim”.

Prosecutors initially decided not to indict the man in connection with the posting of the images because the victim’s parents were concerned that their daughter’s dignity could be harmed if the man’s actions were treated as a criminal case.

The latest retrial was preceded by a different lay-judge trial regarding the murder case. The ruling handed down in the original trial sentenced the man to 22 years jail, referring to the vicious nature of his action in posting the images. But the Tokyo High Court overruled that, saying, “Posting of the images was not subject to indictment but may have been taken into account when assessing the culpability [of the accused].”

Prosecutors later brought a supplementary indictment against the man after receiving a criminal complaint from the girl’s family for suspected violation of the anti-child prostitution and pornography law. As it turned out, the decision handed down in the latest trial was the same as the one at the original trial regarding assessment of the man’s culpability. The girl’s family may find it difficult to accept the latest judgement.

The sequence of unusual developments in the case illustrates the difficulties involved in trying cases involving sex crimes.

As a result of the Mitaka murder case, the Revenge Porn Prevention Law in Tokyo was enforced in November 2014. It allows imprisonment of up to three years and other punishment for anyone who has exposed sexually explicit images to public view without permission of people involved.

Last year, the police authorities received 1,143 requests for consultation in connection with revenge porn. Many such requests concerned cases involving persons being threatened to “have their images disclosed”. In 188 cases, the police were told that images had actually been disclosed.

Last year, the police took action in connection with 276 cases involving such offenses as intimidation and violation of the revenge porn prevention law. To prevent damage from such crimes, we need to increasingly crack down on these offenses.

Once an image is posted on the Internet, it is highly probable it will be repeatedly duplicated. To stem the spread of images, it is indispensable to take quick action, such as submitting a request for website administrators to delete them.

It is also important to make widely known the dangers involved in having such pictures taken without much thought and sending them to others.

In the Mitaka case, the high-school girl and others had sought advice from the local police authorities about the man’s stalking behavior. However, the police failed to prevent her tragic death due to such factors as a lack of coordination among the police stations in their jurisdiction. The murder case has left an important lesson about how to deal with stalkers.