Last week, we talked about a tragedy dominating Japanese news: the death in the city of Nota of 10-year-old Kurihara Mia, whose body was found in her family's bathroom.
The more information that comes out, the more apparent it is that this was a predictable, preventable outcome, with mistakes by school officials and child welfare officers compounding into tragedy. This week, after learning that Mia's school gave her father a copy of a survey in which she accused him of physical abuse, we discovered that Mia's father forced her to write a retraction. Instead of questioning the veracity of this retraction, the prefecture's child welfare center released Mia back to her father's custody.
But a new wrinkle has developed this week that raises some thorny moral questions.
Police had arrested Mia's father, Yuuichirou, when Mia died. Yuuichirou has denied any wrongdoing, telling people that he only ever "disciplined" his daughter, and he had no intention of hurting her. This is, of course, a crock of crap, and parents worldwide are praying that this abusive crap-ass of a dad roasts in Hell.
But on February 3rd, police also arrested Mia's mother, Nagisa, as an accomplice. For now, police aren't accusing Nagisa of abuse, but of neglect - i.e., Nagisa knew that Mia was being abused, but did nothing to protect her child.
What we know about Nagisa's involvement is coming out in drips. In her discussions with police, Nagisa maintains that she "couldn't stop" her husband. "I thought that if he went after her, I wouldn't be abused. What could I do?" A generous way to interpret this is that she was too afraid of being abused herself to say anything. Or, you could say that Nagisa used her daughter as a human shield.
(JP) Link: "I Didn't Want to Be Abused": Mother's Affidavit in Death of Young Girl in Chiba
Testimony from Nagisa has provided additional insights into how Mia died that fateful night. According to a source in the investigation interviewed by Fuji News Network, her mother told police that Yuuichirou had made the girl stand for two days. When she attempted to sit down or fall asleep, he would hit her until she would stand again. It was at the end of this 48 hours of abuse that Mia succumbed and died. This long stretch of abuse raises additional questions around why Nagisa didn't - or couldn't - make a call for help as she saw her daughter's condition worsen.
(JP) Link: Dad "Made Her Stand from Two Days Before Without Sleeping": Testimony from Mia's Mother
父親が「2日前から立たせ眠らせず」 心愛さん母親が供述 - FNN.jpプライムオンライン
Between the time of her husband's arrest and her own, Nagisa apparently engaged in an exchange on the messaging application LINE with a friend, who pressed her on what happened. Asahi Shinbun published a screenshot of the texts, which express shock and exasperation that Nagisa didn't do anything.
"I think it started where I couldn't see it," Nagisa told her friend. "When I tried to intervene on several occasions, he hit me too."
"Didn't you have anyone you could rely on?" her friend asked.
"I don't know anyone in Chiba, so there's no one I could talk to. I thought of going to the police, but in the end, I couldnt."
"I wish you had run," the friend replied.
"I couldn't save her," Nagisa returned. "It's my fault."
According to Asahi's write-up, Nagisa had divorced Yuuichorou once, during this time Mia lived at her mothers' parents' house. It was after they reconciled and moved to Chiba, she said, that she began to learn his true character. At one point, sheer psychological trauma kept her from work for a week.
(JP) Link: I Couldn't Do Anything...Arrested Mom Spills on LINE in Case of Dead 4th Grader
どうすることも… 逮捕の母、ＬＩＮＥで吐露 小４死亡：朝日新聞デジタル
Many people in the same apartment building as the Kuriharas expressed regret that they themselves hadn't heard anything, and had no opportunity to intervene. As for Nagisa, interviewees seemed evenly split. "She should have run away," said a 27 year old woman who lived a floor above the Kuriharas. "Arresting her is the only appropriate response." But a childhood friend of Nagisa's expressed shock: "Her husband was frightening, what could she do? Why did they have to arrest her?"
(JP) Link: "Not Interfering is Abuse": Mia's Mother Arrested, Neighbors Stunned
Now, it's always possible that the mother is lying or soft-pedaling her own role in any abuse in order to protect her image and mount a defense in court. But so far, her testimony seems compelling, which makes the question of her culpability complicated.
On the one hand, imagining what it must be like to live in such a fear-filled environment, I can understand the mother's inaction. Abuse tends to perpetuate a self-perpetuating psychology that leaves victims trapped for months or years. On the other hand, Mia was in protective custody for months after teachers found her cry for help. The mother had a chance to leave her house, seek shelter, and back up her daughter's story. Instead, she became yet another adult who failed to speak up for Mia before it was too late.
There's no telling yet what charges prosecutors will file, or whether Nagisa will get sympathy from the courts for the abuse that she endured. I feel there's still a lot to learn here - and, given the information to date, I fear what we learn next won't be pretty.
I'm the publisher of Unseen Japan. I hold an N1 Certification in the Japanese Language Proficiency Test, and am married to a wonderful woman from Tokyo.
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