• Thu. May 30th, 2024

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"Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation in Japan. The New Victims: Japanese Teenagers"


Note: I’ve been working with the Polaris Project Japan, a non-profit organization that combats human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children, since 2005 and recently agreed to be their temporary public relations director.  In the last year, a lot of the calls coming to Polaris Project Japan were concerning Japanese teenage women who appeared to have been forced into the sex industry–not foreign women.  It does seem that the Japanese government has been enforcing the anti-human trafficking laws to the point where there are significantly fewer non-Japanese women being made sex-slaves. However, it seems they have been replaced by young Japanese teenage girls, many of them runaways or abused children. 

Polaris Project Japan had the brilliant idea of reaching out directly to these girls by making a mobile-phone web-site aimed at them, that was user friendly, and could offer some good advice.  Young schoolgirls don’t read newspapers, don’t watch as much television as they did, and most of their communications is over cell-phones and social networking sites. Unfortunately, such sites have also becoming prime hunting grounds for pimps, low-life yakuza, and pedophiles who seek out fresh meat to use themselves or sell to others. 


A mobile phone web-site aimed at helping Japanese teenage victims
A mobile phone web-site aimed at helping Japanese teenage victims

NHK, Japan’s answer to the BBC gave the website some good coverage this morning. 

The contents of the consultations that Polaris Project Japan and their partner organization Yukon have gotten are quite unpleasant. 


● From Host Club Patron To Forced Prostitution 

   A male Host asked a young victim come visit his club without worrying about money. After his begging continued, she went to the club a few times. Then, a different man from the club asked her for a few hundred thousand yen (a few thousand dollars) for the food and drinks she had consumed. She received threatening phone calls and was even ambushed at her own home. The men kept pressuring the girl to pay the bill, coercing her to go and work in the sex industry. Around that time, she was put in touch with Polaris, and after consulting with the police, she is safe once again.  

Note: I covered incidents like this one as far back as 2000, when I was still a police reporter assigned to the 4th district. It’s a classic technique that yakuza or general low-lives use to force young women into the sex trade.  Host clubs seems to be the equivalent of trafficking recruitment centers in many parts of Japan. 


● A 14-year-old farmed out as a prostitute by her classmates

 Her friends told her that she had a bad attitude, and forced her to apologize by paying money earned from prostitution. A few months later, through some website, she was introduced to a customer, and forced into prostitution. It had already been taken up as a case as a juvenile victim when she contacted this organization. She says, “I’m out of the situation, but I have nowhere to go. I always feel depressed.I let myself get picked up for casual sex, abuse my body, and start crying for no reason.” Polaris Project Japan provides  her regular counseling and the support she needs. 

  Anyway, these are some of the cases that have come up in the last year, there probably are a lot more.  Below is the press release for the web-site. The press conference was held April 1st (Japan time)  at the Foreign Correspondent’s Club of Japan. 




Polaris Project Japan Launches a New Mobile Website:

To help victims of child/teen prostitution

and child pornography and prevent further exploitation


The Polaris Project Japan (PPJ) is the Japanese branch of Polaris Project in Washington DC.  PPJ has been operating a hot-line for human trafficking victims for several years In the last year, PPJ has been receiving more and more calls not just from the traditional human trafficking victims–foreign women ensnared in the sex industry–but Japanese teenage girls who have been lured or forced into the sex industry and can’t get out, and sometimes even been asked by their own parents to work in the industry to make money for their family members. 


Contrary to the popular picture of Japanese teenage prostitutes as clueless teenagers who just want to earn money to buy a designer bag–many of the girls now in the industry are there because of financial necessity and a lack of support for abused girls and boys who run away from home. 

Many of these victims are recruited over the internet and or/are sold over social networking sites by their pimps–like commodities. 

The National Police Agency reported in 2008 internet Profile sites and Social networking sites are the hotbeds of child sex crimes, surpassing the net dating sites (which were originally the hub of sex trafficking).


It is hard to measure the extent of the problem because no Japanese government agency has attempted a comprehensive survey, and the laws protecting children are administrated by many different government agencies and ministries that do not share information or work together.


To provide an effective and systematical intervention to prevent sexual exploitation of adolescents and help victims, Polaris Project is launching a website:

¨       To provide an environment to seek counseling in a safe and anonymous way.

¨       To give information to questions like “What happens if….”, rather than sending simple “Stop” or “Danger” signs.

¨       To eliminate the embarrassment and fear of seeking counseling face to face by allowing contacts via website and phone.

¨       To inform the victims of additional channels of help available.


Polaris Project will also be working with The Children’s Human Rights Committee of the Japan Lawyer’s Association, Prefectural Women’s Centers, and Children’s Shelters to make sure that the children calling receive the best care and advice possible. It will also advertise on sites popular with Japanese youth to make sure the message reaches those who are most vulnerable.

About Polaris Project
Polaris Project is a non-profit organization that combats human trafficking and sexual exploitation of women and children. It was established in 2002 in Washington D.C., USA. In 2004, the Japan office was launched in Tokyo. Our activities and projects include victim outreach, multi-lingual hotline, victim support, and workshops for public and government agencies in positions of direct contact with victims.


13 thoughts on “"Human Trafficking and Sexual Exploitation in Japan. The New Victims: Japanese Teenagers"”
  1. Would it be more effective if this issue was addressed at junior high and high schools? Homerooms already address STDs to some extent, but how about giving students information about these scams, and places to contact to go to if they are facing abuse, because as a teacher right now I see several students who seem to be suffering from abuse, but because it is too shameful the teachers pretend they can’t see it and consider it a private matter. If this was talked about in school then this could help prevent the ignorance that lures girls in, and the shame that keeps them trapped while other grown ups in their lives “hear no evil and see no evil”. When teachers know something is wrong, but they remain silent, silence only adds to the shame. Teachers could be encouraged to watch for signs of abuse and to act, perhaps some information could be mailed out to schools. They do it with health hygene campaigns with the school nurse, and this is also about health, but emotional health.
    There is one girl at my school who never speaks or looks at anyone, or goes to the bathroom because she screams in terror if she goes near it. The teachers want to put her in the special-ed class, but her parents refuse. This seems like an abuse victim to me.
    Instead of contemplating that the student might suffer abuse at her home, her homeroom teacher resents having a “not good” student in her class and purposely does things do embaress that student in front of the other students because she is mad that this “dumb” student messes up her perfect classroom, and has made several comments about how she wishes she wasn’t in her class.
    To decrease this phenomenon from happening it has to be brought into the common knowledge of the targeted age group right? Education and absolving victims of shame and providing them with a viable option of a safe place to go and contact seems logical. Encouraging teachers to be sensitive and pro-active towards abused children seems important. It can be done, the special-ed students are treated with consideration and much of the shame has been taken away. The students and teachers all treat these students well. If mental-handicaps are starting to be destigmitized, then perhaps the schools can do this for abused children too?
    thank you.

    1. E-san,
      I think that’s a great idea. I’ll suggest to the director that we try and set up a way to conduct seminars of sorts at schools in Tokyo. Perhaps the police would be on board with that as well.
      A very good suggestion.

  2. Thanks for writing this post. I covered human trafficking in the Southern U.S. when I was a reporter. I live near Tokyo now; how can I help with the Polaris Project?

  3. This is a sign that a lot of people have a bit too much time on their hands with nothing to do except “think that they can help…” Mind your own business I say, every attempt at reaching out to a Japanese woman is interpreted as being negative or hurtfull — Before you as*holes came around demanding that Japan stop doing this or that, it was fun to meet Japanese ladies. They happen to be self assured, not insecure like Americans, fun to be with and truly know how to enjoy a good time and have a heart to get serious with an American man — The last Japanese woman I dated from 2007 till now was fine until she came across folks like you!! Leave your citizens alone to do what they want — I wanted a loving wife and she a very good emotionally strong happy man– she left only out of fears planted in her head! I’ll forever love Japan and all things Japanese but the social legalism has gone too far — Americans f*ck up everything especially the liberal ones!

    1. I’m not sure what you’re trying to say. Certainly, I wonder about imposing Western values on Japan. The sexual mores of the Japanese people are different from those in the United States–and rightfully so. However, I think the fundamental issue being discussed here is that you have some young women who are being duped, coerced or forced into having sex with male customers when they don’t wish to do so. And they are not paid. That’s sexual slavery. Certainly, this is not a good thing.
      If a woman or a man, wants to offer sexual services and be paid for it–well, personally, I don’t see much of a problem with that. The problem comes when anti-social forces exploit those people and rob them of their earnings. When you take away someone’s right to say no, their freedom of movement, and force them to work with little or no compensation–I think that constitutes slavery. The unpaid services in this case including having sexual intercourse with members of the opposite sex, without sufficient protection (from violence or disease) or the right to demand such protection.
      It doesn’t sound like “fun” to me.
      The other problem is that there is little support for victims of domestic trafficking or awareness that these girls may not be willingly engaged in the sex industry. I think that if Japan hadn’t received such a blast of shame-inducing reporting about their lax attitudes towards human trafficking–that no new laws would have gone on the books. I think you’d still see 13 year old girls Thai girls being held captive and forced to service ten or more men a night. I think outside criticism has some value. It got Japan to also outlaw the production and selling of child pornography. Although, because Japan values personal freedom–it’s still okay to own child pornography.
      I don’t think semi-legal child-porn is such a great thing either but perhaps I’m being unfair to Japanese society and the government.

  4. The same trend is happening in the U.S. where professional sexual traffickers are forcing teenage (and younger) American girls into sexual slavery.

    This is an older (2005) report on this situation in the U.S. http://www.humantrafficking.org/updates/278

    I think most Americans are unaware of the existence of slavery and sexual slavery in the U.S. despite reports in the New York Times, The New Yorker, and attempts by church and other activist groups to raise awareness and activism to prevent abuse and victimization. The most shocking report I have seen recently was on a network news program featuring a high school student in Pensacola, Florida who was kidnapped by the pimp portrayed himself as the “father” of another teenage victim who was attending the student’s school. She was held captive, was not allowed to drink or eat, and was given drugs while being gang-raped for days. The local police refused to get involved so her family had to create a “posse” to look for her and miraculously her brother found her, almost unconscious, in the backseat of a car at a convenience store. The pimp was transporting her to Texas after selling her on the internet. The reporter said that Pensacola is one of the trafficking centers in the U.S. and that there’s a circular corridor where pimps bring their (mostly teenage and younger) victims that goes along the east and west coasts, through Chicago on the north side and Atlanta on the south.

    Media reports say that traffickers prefer younger victims because they are easier to control than mature women.

    Japan, the U.S., Russia and the rest of the world needs much more reporting like your’s. Thanks for your reporting.

    1. Thanks for sending the link and the commentary. It all comes down to this–traffickers look for the easiest people to victimize and those that are the cheapest to “buy” and maintain. It’s no wonder they’ve started looking at younger girls as immigration gets stricter and other countries become more aware of the human trafficking menace. A few years ago I spoke to Andrew Vacchs, the writer about things like this. I thought he was exaggerating. I was wrong.

  5. Nice action,but this is not true:

    “If a woman or a man, wants to offer sexual services and be paid for it–well, personally, I don’t see much of a problem with that.”

    All the problem lay on that because teaches me men we are commodities for they abuse us.Besides,this “free choice speech” is a myth that fule patriarchy offences against us women.Why we are not encouraged to be politicians and powerfull business women? We are more encouraged to be sexual objects than anything else.I know your intention was not to justify such pratices but for making an efficient work,we must change the way societies see we,women and girls. Just adding a point ^_^!

    Good lucky in your weork,we are about to open a CATW branch in my country,with the same goals plus women education.If we don´t stop to see ourselves as commodities,nothing will improove indeed.

    1. Soflah-sama
      Of course prostitution is hardly something I’d encourage women to go into as a profession, nor men. And making women and men into sexual objects as part of our consumer culture is pretty appalling. However, to say that no one becomes a sex worker out of free choice is also incorrect. Some men and women see it as a way to make a good sum of money relative to the risks. In Japan, it’s a legal profession within certain limits. As that is the case, then sex workers should have their rights as workers protected. It is a labor issue as well.

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