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posted on 31 May 2016

Stalkers: When Affection Turns To Rage


-- this post authored by Scott Stewart

Twenty-year-old Japanese pop music star Mayu Tomita was critically injured May 21 when an attacker stabbed her more than 20 times in the head, neck and torso. The assailant was 27-year-old Tomohiro Iwazaki, an obsessed fan reportedly angered that she had returned a gift he had sent her.

Following the assault, Iwazaki did not attempt to flee the scene of the crime. When the police arrived, he confessed to attacking Tomita. He had waited for her at a nearby subway station and approached her to ask why she had not kept his gift. When she did not provide a clear answer, he flew into a rage and attacked her.

The Tomita case is a brutal reminder of the very real danger that the mentally disturbed can pose to celebrities, a threat that arguably exceeds the danger posed to celebrities by terrorists. In almost every case where a mentally disturbed individual has attacked a celebrity, the attacker has made prior contact with the eventual target, quite often extensively - providing ample warning signs. When those warning signs are ignored, as it appears they were in the Tomita case, the results can be devastating.

While mentally disturbed stalkers are dangerous as well as hard to deter or divert to other targets, they are vulnerable to detection if they are identified and then sought out as they stalk their victims.

Adoration and Obsession

Like it or not, we live in a world obsessed with celebrity. An entire paparazzi media industry has evolved to help promote this idol worship, which has extended from magazines, papers and other print media to include radio, television and now web outlets. It is no mistake that "Idol" style and reality television programs have become immensely popular in every region of the world. There is now even a class of professional celebrities who don't have any particular skills or talents beyond being celebrities.

But fame brings certain risks and costs. Perhaps the greatest of these costs is the loss of privacy. The personal lives of celebrities are placed under intense scrutiny, their every move recorded and scrutinized. This invasive interest in the lives of celebrities by paparazzi and fans often necessitates security. Security can help protect celebrities from criminal threats such as home invasion robberiesor kidnappings.

But effective security for public figures must go beyond goons and guns. It must incorporate aprotective intelligence element to assess and monitor potential threats. One of those threats is mentally disturbed individuals.

Mentally disturbed individuals can develop an abnormal and unhealthy interest in public figures for a number of reasons. Sometimes they blame the figure for their mental illness. Oftentimes they will claim that the celebrity is controlling their mind through the television, magic or chemicals, or is somehow sending them secret messages. In one example of this type of case, a man drove from Massachusetts to Washington to kill the secretary of state because, after watching him on a Sunday morning talk show, he became convinced that the secretary was controlling his brain with a satellite. In another case, a woman drove 1,200 miles to the home of a prominent person because she thought he had sent her a secret message in a television advertisement saying that he wanted to marry her.

Another type of mentally disturbed person develops such obsessions due to anger. This type of person is angry at something the public figure said or did, or something that he perceives the public figure said or did. Similar rage toward celebrity business leaders is sometimes generated by unrealistic product expectations or by customer service complaints. In the business setting, anger can also stem from a human resources grievance or perceived grievance. The "perceived" is important because it is often difficult to understand irrational people's motivation, since their reality may be quite different from that of the rest of us.

Not infrequently, troubled individuals become obsessed with a public figure - either romantically or simply out of intense admiration - and then become angry when they feel rejected by the object of their obsession. In their irrational and often delusional state, they simply cannot understand why the celebrity does not reciprocate their affection.

This appears to be what happened in the Tomita case. The Japan Times reports that Tomita complained to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police in early May that Iwazaki had been posting harassing messages on her blog and Twitter account. But Iwazaki's fixation on Tomita dates back at least to January. Reportedly, Iwazaki sent Tomita a watch as a gift, and when it was returned unopened with no other communication, he became angry. This apparently prompted Iwazaki to escalate his rhetoric, some of which became quite alarming. For example, on Feb. 22 Iwazaki messaged her "I will never forget that I was looked down upon by you." And on March 15, he posted a message that "It would be radical to kill just because ... rejected by a girl."

How to Respond - and Not to Respond

Presumably, this sort of message prompted Tomita (or her manager) to report Iwazaki to the police. But even if the police had acted upon Tomita's complaint that Iwazaki was stalking her, issuing him a warning or even the Japanese equivalent of a restraining order, such measures are often not very effective in deterring mentally disturbed individuals from acting in stalking cases. It is important to remember that irrational individuals have very little concern for the consequences of their actions. This means threats of legal action or arrest have little to no deterrent effect on them.

Instead, police visits and restraining orders may actually escalate the situation by making the mentally disturbed individual feel that the object of his unrequited affection has betrayed him, prompting him to lash out, or by dashing any remaining hope he had of winning her over. This loss of hope can prompt the stalker to think things such as "If I can't have her, nobody can." (I've been using "he" to reference stalkers since they tend to be predominantly male, but there are female stalkers who can be equally dangerous.)

In addition to having very little regard for consequences, mentally disturbed people are also difficult to defend against because they are most often solitary, which makes it hard for law enforcement authorities or protective security elements to gather intelligence regarding their plans and intentions using traditional law enforcement tools.

Mentally disturbed stalkers also tend not to worry about escape; in many cases, they even surrender at the scene as Iwazaki did. With little concern about getting away from the scene, they do not have to think about escape in their attack planning cycle, and they can conduct attacks in public areas where they can be plainly seen, identified and even quickly apprehended. In fact, some of them want to be identified and arrested after the crime because they crave the attention and notoriety their actions will bring them.

However, that does not mean that they cannot be detected before they strike. Mentally disturbed individuals do commonly make written or telephonic contact with their focus of interest prior to attempting to initiate contact in person. It is very rare for such an attack to occur when there was no prior contact with the target. By self-identifying at this stage of the process, these individuals provide protective intelligence teams an opportunity to identify them, conduct records checks, obtain photographs, etc. Protective intelligence teams can also monitor the mentally disturbed individual's communications over time to note signs of deteriorating mental health or increased use of violent or threatening language. If these things are detected, the protective intelligence team can provide security personnel and the celebrity with a "be on the lookout" notice and increase security measures.

If a mentally disturbed individual with an abnormal focus of interest becomes hostile, they will also typically conduct extensive research and surveil, or "stalk," their target prior to launching an attack. If security personnel have been provided photos and descriptions of the person, they have a greater chance of noticing him as he conducts this surveillance.

But this is assuming the celebrity has security. Since a May 2014 incident in which a man attacked and injured two members of the Japanese female pop group AKB48 with a pruning saw, promoters have provided better security at concert venues and handshake events, for instance by making fans pass through metal detectors. Presumably, Tomita's event - which she promoted on the blog Iwazaki had been harassing her on - would have had such security. But it does not appear that Tomita had additional security, thus leaving her vulnerable outside the venue, merely shifting the threat.

Targets are vulnerable to attacks by stalkers during arrival and departure from scheduled events or known places like a residence or office. This is why executive protection details use advance agents at sites and attempt to use low-profile and protected entrances and exits when possible.

Undoubtedly, the Japanese pop industry will have to rethink the way it protects its performers after this case. Its adoption of more robust security measures may well imitate how security changed for Hollywood actors after several assaults in the 1980s: first, a knife attack against actress Theresa Saldana in 1982, and seven years later, the murder of actress Rebecca Schaeffer. Both celebrities were attacked by mentally disturbed stalkers who had given warning signs that went unheeded.

"Stalkers: When Affection Turns to Rage" is republished with permission of Stratfor.

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