You read that right! Kyoto Prefecture announced plans to roll out a policy that will officially outlaw the possession and acquisition of child pornography, with plans to enact the regulations some time this year. Kyoto will be the first prefecture in the country to create and enforce such a regulation.
Possession of child pornography is currently legal under Japanese law, as long as there is no intent of sale or distribution. Child prostitution and pornography laws currently only outlaw the creation and distribution of pornography featuring those under 18 years of age.
Kyoto Prefecture’s new regulation will require owners to dispose of all media containing sexual depiction of youth under the age of 18, and the government is currently considering penal regulations if such requirements aren’t followed. Possession of pornography featuring children under the age of 13 constitutes child sexual abuse, and will become an automatically jailable offense. Anime, however, is not covered by the new law.
The proposed legislation was part of Kyoto governor Keiji Yamada’s manifesto during the April 2010 race for governor. The regulations were proposed in a report authored by an investigative commission of nine experts, including academics, experts in law and experts in child welfare.
The new law seems a bit fuzzy. One major problem with current legislation is the lack of specifics in what constitutes child pornography. While some content is very explicitly pornographic, Japan’s large junior idol industry exploits a grey area in the law by purporting to be art while washing their hands of any additional connotations images of scantily-clad children may have–and how those images may be used by other individuals. According to the Kyoto Shinbun, the report points out that the law would need to distinctly define what is covered under the law, for example just explicitly sexual acts, or things alluding to or involving genitalia.
The fact that anime is exempt from the law should be a point of debate as well, and is quite a large statement in the wake of Tokyo’s move to restrict the sale of anime, manga and games containing sexual images of those under 18. The simple “slap on the hand” given to first-time offenders is also questionable, and at this stage the proposed law is dubiously flimsy. It is however a step forward and much more than the Japanese national government is doing. Currently, there is not even a bill in committee to ban child pornography possession.
Additional observations from Jake:
In addition to being an editor for this website and a writer, I’m also a board director of the Polaris Project Japan, an organization which helps human trafficking victims, works to stop the sexual and labor exploitation of women, children, and foreigners, and has been lobbying the Japanese government to make possession of child pornography a crime for several years. I am also the police liaison for the organization, which means that when we have a good tip on a human trafficking organization or child pornographers, Shihoko Fujiwara, the director of Polaris Project Japan and I collect the data and information and bring it to the police. I spent over a decade covering the Japanese police force as a reporter and understand what they need to make a case. There are many detectives who are enthusiastic about cracking down on human trafficking and child pornography. One tip which we took to the police last year resulted in the arrest and indictment of a child pornographer and the dismantling of a pedophile network.
However, what was a major obstacle in the initial investigation is that the police felt that they could not get a warrant to search the home of the child pornographer if he only possessed it. They needed proof that he had been selling the materials to get a search warrant. One detective explained it very simply, “Possession is not a crime. Therefore, even if we suspect someone is involved in producing and distributing it but only know that they possess it, we can’t make a raid. We can’t seize the computer or materials that would help us track down the source of the child pornography or help us rescue the victims. Even if possession was made a crime with no punishment other than a fine, it would immensely aid our investigations. We detest the stuff and the victimization of children as much as anyone does. Even more. However, our hands are tied behind our back. The FBI and other federal agencies pass on over a hundred tips to the National Police Agency each year about child pornography issues. Maybe one or two actually turn into prosecutable cases. Since Ando Takaharu became head of the National Police Agency, we’ve been getting more support on those investigations but they’re still very difficult.”
On February 15th, I went to a hearing on child pornography in Japan, at the National Diet Lower House Member’s Building, as a board member of Polaris Project Japan. Bradley Myles, the CEO of Polaris Project (Washington DC) attended as did members of UNICEF and two senators from the Diet. We made a strong case for the criminalization of simple possession.Myles was very succinct, stating: “The actions of any country, including Japan, play an important role in the global effort (to eliminate child pornography) and when possession of these images is legal in Japan, it creates a gap and an impediment to the entire international effort to police the problem.” He advocated that Japan make possession a crime punishable by a fine and jail time.
Japan and Russia are the only remaining G-8 countries that defends the ownership of films of real children (not manga) being molested for personal enjoyment. I was hoping to ask some pointed questions after his speech, but the Diet members skipped out halfway through the meeting and were not available for the Q & A that followed. Personally, it says a lot to me about how seriously the Japanese government takes this problem.
Perhaps, making an appearance at the beginning was the best that the senators could do. However, when one of the Diet members made the remark, “It’s hard to find a balance between freedom of expression and criminalizing the possession of child pornography”, I felt like puking. Pardon me. Films of children being sodomized, gagged, tortured, raped and abused on film for the sadistic entertainment of others are not “freedoms of expressions” or “works of art”–they are evidence of a crime and a clear violation of decency. If you can stomach it, read the testimony of children who were used in child pornography to understand how deeply it hurts them, even years later while the films still circulate. These films are also certainly a violations of Japan’s laws on personal privacy, if you want to get into the finer legal problems. As such, the only people who should have child pornography in their possession are the police. As long as the purchase and possession of child porn are not crimes, there will be a demand for them and there will be anti-social elements who make money off feeding that demand, some of them yakuza, some of them simply sociopathic entrepreneurs. Japan continues to be one of the largest producers and suppliers of child pornography in the world.
Hiroko Tabuchi, ace reporter of the New York Times, offered very insightful commentary as I was live tweeting the conference. By no means was she defending child pornography, she has written very balanced articles on the problem but she did point out, “The Government cites concerns people could be prosecuted for mistaken downloads, being sent files unknowingly etc.” I would have to agree with that point. I can easily see how the law could be abused to frame people for a crime and its the kind of thing a smart yakuza would do to take down a nuisance–unilaterally send them numerous pictures of child pornography and then immediately call the police and “inform” on the victim. Teenagers being arrested on child pornography charges for sending nude pictures of themselves to friends or their consensual partners is a clear example of law enforcement being poorly applied, and deeply flawed laws.
The law can be written requiring a burden of proof that the individual actively downloaded or bought the child pornography, repeatedly, with full knowledge of what they were buying. An exemption can be made for underage children who send naked pictures of themselves willingly to their friends or lovers. I would also suggest possession be made a crime punishable by a substantial fine or jail time rather than mandatory jail time. By giving the police and prosecution some leeway, it would encourage the possessor of the materials to cooperate with the investigation. Even just making possession a simple crime punishable by a fine would be enough to let the police seize evidence in cases and capture the makers and distributors of the child pornography rather than just the end users.
If the Democratic Party of Japan has any decency they will at least put forth a bill to committee to ban possession of child pornography. There is not even a bill under debate at present–in effect, they are doing absolutely nothing. Judging by their failure to rid themselves of Ozawa Ichiro, their loyalties seem to be more about their own interests rather than the public good. Many of their financial supporters are people in the adult film and anime business producing neo-child pornography. The DPJ should be aware that Japan’s failure to act on the problem is an international embarassment. I guess that’s the best way to end these comments, with a little Japanese vocabulary lesson that I hope the Democratic Party of Japan would take to heart. “恥を知りなさい”（haji wo shirinasai). Be ashamed of yourselves.
Jake Adelstein, board director, Polaris Project Japan