When it comes to human trafficking, one might usually think of impoverished countries where laws are not enforced and politics are full of corruption. However, many first world countries are in fact important source transportations and destinations when it comes to human trafficking. This can be something that many citizens tends to overlook as they have no idea of what kind of illegal activities happen in their home countries. Japan is one of these countries.
After years of being categorized as a Tier 2 country because the government was not meeting the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking, the 2018 Trafficking in Persons Report, finally placed Japan as a Tier 1 country thanks to the government’s actions to monitor the Technical Intern Training Program and for a task force to fight joshi kosei or JK Business, which facilities child prostitution. Japan was able to retain its Tier 1 position for the 219 Trafficking in Persons Report, but the country is still facing some challenges.
Enjo Kosai is a transactional relationship where older men will give money or luxurious gifts to women for companionship and sometimes sexual favors, though the latter is not a requirement.
JK Business refers to the form of Enjo Kosai that sees school girls or joshi kosei as the participants. One of the most popular type of JK Business is JK osanpo or JK stroll. Here, older man will pay to walk with a high school girl. These walks are usually innocent in nature, but at times customers can get sexual services if they pay an extra fee. Some men are the ones who request the extra services to the young girls by offering them more money for the opportunity to take upskirt photos, keep the girls’ underwear, or take them to a love hotel.
Many of the business that provide Joshi Kosei are centered in Akihabara because of the districts’ notorious maid cafes. Some of these establishments trick their employees, who thought they were just working at one of the aforementioned maid cafes, into working in the JK Business, forcing them into prostitution through threats and force labor.
A cosplayer dresses up as a maid cafe’s “maid”.
A famous case where one of the operators of such business was prosecuted occurred in October 2017, when Yutaka Tanaka was arrested for allegedly employing a 17-year-old girl to walk with older men and making her have sex with a 45-year-old customer. Tanaka would only pay the girls for their hourly walks with older men if they agreed to offer extra services, many of which were sexual. In 2017, 114 businesses offering Joshi Kosei were identified. Here, men could request going on a walk with a teenage girl for 5,000 to 7,000 yen an hour.
Since those participating in JK Business have to be young girls, human traffickers tend to target girls who face problems like poverty. It is not uncommon for high school girls to enter the JK Business because they need to pay for school, and thus can be easily coerced into the industry.
Another demographic that is targeted are runways. Since these girls have nowhere to go and might even feel ashamed to return home, traffickers can effortlessly recruit them. Girls who come from broken homes or who have been sexually abused can end up in the streets. Vulnerable and desperate, these girls can become the perfect victims; something human traffickers are willing and ready to exploit.
Other girls are brought to Japan and forced into prostitution through debt bondages, threats like telling them they will be deported, blackmail, or violence.
Lolicon is a type of manga, anime, and video games that depicts young girls or childlike characters generally engaging in romantic or sexual interaction with older male character, though sometimes the acts and stories also range from lesbianism to masturbation. Lolicon has been in the middle of heated debates for years now alongside other manga genres like Shotacon (which instead of young girls depicts young boys).
After Japan toughened its laws to criminalized child pornography, the question about how to regulate other types of media that sexualize underage characters arose. Many critics of Lolicon stipulate that it encourages the sexual abuse of minors. However, other critics correlate the rise of Lolicon with a decrease of crime. These critics, while not justifying Lolicon’s content, contradict the comments and beliefs that violent media causes violent acts.
As Japan wraps its mind around Lolicon and other types of similar media, there has been pressure on Japan to meet global standards of regulating child pornography. However, even outside Japan, the drawing a line on how to regulate Lolicon has proven difficult. A famous case involving Lolicon outside Japan saw the 2006 arrest of Christopher Handley in United States. Handley had ordered a package from Japan containing manga. Unbeknown to him, the Postal Inspector had obtained a warrant to check the package, finding the Lolicon manga and its “cartoon images of objectionable content.” Handley was followed home by several agents, and his collection of manga, DVDs, CDs, laser disks, and computers confiscated. Handley was later prosecuted even though the seven items he had ordered represented a tiny fraction of his expansive collection, and despite the fact that he had never possessed actual child pornography. Rather than having to explain Lolicon to the jury, Handley entered a guilty plea bargain and spent six months in jail. The case brought more heat into the debate as the U.S. government prosecuted a private citizen for having a private collection of comics. The trial also propelled discussions of what constitutes freedom of speech and obscenity.
As can be attested, Lolicon remains a very controversial topic that has been difficult to regulate; and while some attribute it to be linked to JK Business and the culture behind it, clear evidence to justify this is still lacking.
Japan has been showing effort to combat human trafficking, placing stricter rules such as the ones seeing on the Technical Intern Training Program. However, many of their efforts fall short because of the unclear anti-trafficking statues that overlap and hinder investigations, arrests, and prosecutions. It’s also worth noting that in many cases Japan does not carry strong sentences when prosecuting traffickers, which remains one of the biggest things the 2018 Trafficking in Person Report said Japan had to work on to continue the efforts that have placed the nation as a Tier 1 country.
Japan has also been releasing annual reports since 2016 that show government tactics and actions used to fight human trafficking, and which also tracks the measures the Japanese government has set to meet those goals.
However, one of the biggest problems Japan faces when it comes to human trafficking is when child trafficking victims are treated like criminals, leaving the young victims with little support and the traffickers unconvicted. In some cases, victims are treated as delinquents, police officers offered counseling for their behavior instead of launching investigations that could lead to the traffickers. Additionally, these children are not formally identified as victims.
Some volunteers have decided to take matters into their own hands. Tsubomi Cafe, essentially a bus cafe, was set up as a refuge for runaways and other girls that face problems and situations that made them susceptible to sexual exploitation. Inside this bus cafe, girls can have meaningful interactions with adults who truly wanted to help them.
Japan remains an important country for human trafficking, both as a source transportation and destination. JK Business is a popular form of child trafficking that can result in the sexual exploitation of vulnerable school girls. While Japan has increased its anti-trafficking efforts, contradictory actions that see police officers treat victims as delinquents and the improper prosecution of human traffickers continue to prevent the government from fully tackling this issue. However, Japan has shown an increasingly stricter approach to fight human trafficking, which saw the implementation of units that aim to battle JK Business.