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Family sues Japan local gov't over daughter's attempted suicide after affair with teacher

The mother of the female student who tried to kill herself after a relationship with her teacher speaks to the Mainichi Shimbun in Oita, on Feb. 14, 2020. (Mainichi/Arina Ogata)

OITA -- The family of an 18-year-old high school student in southwest Japan has sued their local government demanding some 130 million yen in damages after the student, troubled by her romantic relationship with her teacher, tried to kill herself.

The student remains in a coma due to hypoxic encephalopathy -- lack of oxygen to the brain -- following her attempted suicide in January 2019. Her teacher, 33, was dismissed from an Oita prefectural high school in July 2019 after his inappropriate relationship with the student came to light. In December 2019, police reported him to the Oita District Public Prosecutors Office on suspicion of violating a prefectural ordinance for promoting sound upbringing of youth. He was handed a summary order for a 300,000 yen fine in January 2020.

The former teacher's indecent acts with the student surfaced after she tried to kill herself, but the Oita Prefectural Board of Education did not disclose the student's attempted suicide when it announced the teacher's disciplinary dismissal in July 2019. The board says it did not make the information public because "the causal relation (between the relationship and the attempted suicide) was unclear and it was a matter of the student's privacy."

According to the lawsuit filed on Jan. 14 against the Oita Prefectural Government with the Oita District Court and other sources, the former teacher engaged in indecent acts with the student on several occasions from October 2018 at hotels and other locations. He was married and had a family, and the student had tried to end the relationship, telling him on the free messaging app Line, "We need to stop being lovers," and "Can we stop seeing each other for a little while?" The former teacher, however, did not comply and replied with messages like "I want us to be lovers," and they continued their relationship.

The student tried to hang herself at home in January 2019. The former teacher reportedly visited her house right before the incident with college information materials. Her family learned about their relationship after checking their exchanges on Line and confronted the former teacher.

The education board prohibits communications between teachers and students via social media, but the former teacher had told board officials that he and the student became close after talking on such media.

In the complaint, her family claims that the former teacher "took advantage of his position to have a relationship with a minor, and drove her psychologically to a point where she attempted suicide." They are demanding that the prefectural government pay damages and cover the medical bills for any residual disabilities.

A lawyer for the family said, "The school rejected its responsibility and did not take any preventive measures. We are going to establish the school's responsibility to prevent this kind of incident from ever happening again."

The student's 44-year-old mother told the Mainichi Shimbun and other news outlets on Feb. 14 that the education board "is insulting my daughter by trying to put an end to the matter just by issuing a disciplinary measure." She said, tearfully, "We can't talk to her, so we want to hear the truth from the former teacher in court."

According to the mother, the student was studying to enter a university with an agricultural department to do research on plants. Regarding the education board's decision not to disclose her daughter's attempted suicide, she said, "They exploited the fact that she cannot talk and are treating the matter dismissively."

(Japanese original by Arina Ogata, Hyelim Ha and Toru Shirakawa, Oita Bureau)

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