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Top>Opinion>Building Stronger Multidisciplinary Cooperation Toward Preventing Child Abuse


Building Stronger Multidisciplinary Cooperation Toward Preventing Child Abuse

Miyuki Nakagawa
Specially Appointed Professor and Public Prosecutor, Chuo Law School
Area of Specialization: criminal jurisprudence

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Current State of Child Abuse

According to press reports, child consultation centers across Japan handled more than 120,000 cases of child abuse in 2016 (preliminary figures). Since the study was launched in 1990, the figures have continuously increased, reaching record numbers every year. According to the 2017 White Paper on Crime, there were 1,041 arrests related to child abuse, about 3.5 times the figure recorded in 2007, with a considerable rise in the number of violent incidents. The number of all acknowledged crimes reached its peak in 2002 and has been on the decline since, dropping to a total of 996,120 cases in 2016. This is the first time since the end of World War II that it has dipped below 1 million cases. When observed in comparison to these figures, the increase in the number of child abuse cases is particularly alarming.

In addition, as is evident from the fact that in 67 percent of child abuse cases, the perpetrators are the children's biological parents, child abuse is a crime that is committed within the family, making it rare for there to be third-party witnesses. This makes child abuse a crime committed largely behind closed doors. Up until recently, conventional thinking dictated that the law should not meddle in household matters, and violent acts in the name of disciplining children were generally approved. However, the change in social attitudes toward social intervention in these cases as shown in the criminalization of domestic violence, as well as the change in citizen consciousness certainly contributes to the increase in the reported child abuse cases.

In order to be able to detect child abuse cases early on, and to prevent irreversible cases such as those that end in death before they occur, it is crucial for related agencies to share information and to handle these cases quickly.

Multidisciplinary Teams for the Child Abuse Prevention in the US

About 20 years ago, as part of an overseas research conducted by the Ministry of Justice, I conducted a research on the operational status of criminal justice systems related to protecting sexually exploited and abused children in the United States. In that research, I found that various agencies involved in child abuse cases gathered to provide services that children who were victims of abuse required all in one place. I had the opportunity to visit some of these facilities, called Children's Advocacy Center. Before these facilities were established, abused children had to go to the relevant agencies such as medical doctors, child welfare institution, police station and public prosecutor’s office separately. The repeated hearing on the circumstances inflicted further emotional damage to the children, and in many cases they were not able to receive the necessary services. The handling of these cases was also often done ineffectively. To combat these realities, people began calling for creating multidisciplinary teams made up of the relevant agencies listed above, with the objective of minimizing mental distress inflicted upon abused children, and facilitating the effective execution of investigations and trials for child abuse cases, with an emphasis on protecting children who are victims of abuse.

Specifically, whenever a case of child abuse is reported, the victim is immediately taken to a center, where a hearing on the abuse is held. This is done by having a single investigator with the required training in questioning children ask the child questions, while others involved in the investigation observe the child's behavior through a monitor screen in a separate room. Afterward, if deemed necessary, there is a system for providing the child with medical and social services.

Among the centers I visited, one in Georgia had 14 rooms, including a waiting room, a conference room, a counseling room, a medical treatment room and an interview room. These rooms were designed in ways to make them unintimidating to children, much like the interior of nursery schools in Japan. There were supervisors, therapists and police officers who were permanently stationed there. Medical doctors and public prosecutors were called upon on an as-needed basis.

I also participated in a national conference held every year by the National Children's Advocacy Center located in Alabama. In this conference, people involved in child abuse cases across the country, including those in the justice, medical and social services fields gathered and held extensive discussions surrounding issues related to child abuse, such as methods for interviewing abused children and swift and precise methods for gathering evidence.

The Current State of Multidisciplinary Cooperation in Japan

In Japan, following the reports of the increase in child abuse cases, efforts toward strengthening the cooperation between the Public Prosecutor’s Office, police and child consultation centers began in 2015, and cooperative interviews between two to three parties started being put into practice. The Public Prosecutor's Office has been participating in external training programs related to methods for interviewing children that incorporate psychological expertise, as well as inviting outside lecturers to provide training in the appropriate handling of child abuse cases.

Furthermore, in 2015, Japan's first fully-staffed children's advocacy center similar to those in the US was also built in Kanagawa Prefecture (see:

In the midst of this, a tragic incident occurred in Tokyo’s Meguro-ku in March this year in which a five-year-old girl died as a result of abuse perpetrated by her parents gives evidence of the fact that multidisciplinary cooperation is still insufficient. The public prosecutors I met 20 years ago in the US who handled child abuse cases also had disagreements at first with social workers and justice officials in matters related to handling of cases, but eventually they settled on compromises and deepened their mutual understanding. As exemplified by this, it may be inevitable for it to take some time for experts in different fields to establish cooperative structures.

Proposal for Building Stronger Multidisciplinary Cooperation Toward Preventing Child Abuse

The cooperative relationship between social workers and justice officials has already begun taking shape as they make efforts toward preventing repeat offenses. In Japan, due to the vertical structures of each of the government ministries, there are institutional obstacles in terms of human resources and budget limitations that prevent action from being taken swiftly. However, as the number of child abuse cases continue to rise, it is necessary to start from wherever we can to mitigate the problem as much as possible.

As one example of an effort that can be taken immediately, I want to propose the implementation of joint training programs related to preventing child abuse. Similar to the training programs held in Alabama that I mentioned above, these programs will provide a space for justice officials, medical personnel and social workers involved in child abuse cases to gather annually and discuss various topics, including the fundamental factors related to child abuse and the latest problems we are facing today. This will not only provide opportunities to strengthen expertise, but also acquire knowledge in matters outside of the expertise of each participant. Above all else, this will be useful for constructing relationships built on mutual trust through meetings and opinion exchanges among experts in fields that do not usually share common ground. Instead of being single-directional in their approach, training programs should be interactive and multi-directional in order for them to be effective in strengthening multidisciplinary cooperation. I hope that the Ministry of Justice, National Police Agency, and Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare take immediate steps toward helping create these joint training programs.

Miyuki Nakagawa
Specially Appointed Professor and Public Prosecutor, Chuo Law School
Area of Specialization: criminal jurisprudence
Miyuki Nakagawa was born in Hiroshima Prefecture. She graduated from the Kyoto University Faculty of Law.
She was appointed as a public prosecutor in April 1990, and served in the District Public Prosecutor's Office in Tokyo, Hiroshima, Yokohama, and Saitama. She also served in the Ministry of Justice Personnel Division and the Cabinet Secretariat.
She took her temporary post at Chuo Law School in April 2015, where she currently works today.

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