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Parents of Bullied Child Face “Blame the Victim” Mentality

SNA (Yamanashi) — The issue of bullying in Japanese schools becomes much more real when the victim is your own child. My wife and I found out that it can also become much worse when school authorities participate in the bullying and fail to protect the innocent.

Our daughter’s first year of public middle school in Yamanashi city began pretty much as her elementary school years. She would wake up every day, more or less looking forward to the day ahead, and she would come home in the late afternoon bubbling with stories of events and school happenings.

Then, a dramatic change occurred in her behavior. Her enthusiasm to go to school began to wither. Asked why she looked so gloomy as she set out for the day, she would either say that it was nothing or remain silent. Clearly it was something.

We finally discovered the reason for her distress from her homeroom teacher. The cause was that she was being teased by a group of female classmates on account of her “gaijin smell,” or what we later came to know as “adolescent body odor.”

My mother sent us a care package from the United States with fresheners and feminine products, and we tried multiple ways to alleviate the problem, and thus bring the bullying to an end.

But our daughter’s gloom only deepened, and she began showing signs of depression. Professional counseling seemed to help a little, but it didn’t bring to a close the root cause of her troubles for being an allegedly smelly half-foreigner.

The situation took a sharp turn for the worse in the middle of the first semester of her second year of middle school. One day, the teachers decided to take matters into their own hands and decided to cut her hair in full view of other students, without her consent or even contacting us to ask permission.

That evening our daughter came home so traumatized that she completely refused to return to school. When my daughter’s absence from school went from a few days to several weeks, I became deeply alarmed.

We spent the following year and a half trying to get the middle school to accept the responsibility for the trauma my daughter had suffered and to create a safe environment for her to return to her studies. Not only did they seem to dismiss our concerns, we came to understand that we were being described as “monster parents” for our demand that our daughter not be bullied.

Over the course of 2017, with the help of our local ombudsman, we managed to collect over 1500 signatures requesting that the school board conduct an internal investigation. The Yamanashi City School Board ultimately agreed to carry out such an investigation.

At the end of 2018, after monthly meetings by the school board (in which we were not allowed to participate), we were informed by voicemail that the results of this investigation had completely exonerated the teachers of any misdeeds or responsibility regarding the treatment of our daughter. It was, they judged, all our fault that our daughter had been bullied and had suffered such trauma.

We requested to see a copy of the full report, but have been told that cannot have access to it because it contains the names of private individuals whose privacy must be protected.

When our ombudsman let us know in early February the identities of the four individuals who had conducted the third-party investigation on behalf of the school board, we suspected that the real subjects of the investigation may not have been the school authorities, but rather me, my wife, and my daughter.

Finally, on January 8, 2019, we filed with the Kofu city prosecutor a criminal complaint, naming the school principal and three teachers as defendants. We have also filed with the Yamanashi city office a formal request to see the report which we understand should, in fact, be available to us by law.

We feel deeply distressed by the entire situation. First of all, we are worried for our traumatized daughter and her future. We are also disappointed by what seems to be a clear-cut case of “blame the victim,” and of public officials trying to squelch dissent instead of addressing the root problem of school bullying.

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