Tokyo’s move to curb sexual exploitation of schoolgirls could push underage dating service underground
With the passage of a new law regulating underage schoolgirl dating services aiming to curb the seedy business, there is fear the change will push operators further underground where illicit sexual activities will continue unseen.
The new law that came into force on Saturday prohibits girls younger than 18 from working in the so-called JK business. JK stands for joshi kosei, the literal translation of “high school girl”.
But the problem needs a broader solution as business is seemingly booming on the internet where an abundance of websites offer services from high school girls advertised with various sexually implicit euphemisms.
And with the schoolgirls’ earning potential in such operations so much greater compared to regular part-time jobs, it is little wonder why many choose the former.
“After the enforcement, there will still be high school girls out there who are going to want to earn pocket money, and the men who target these girls won’t disappear, either,” said an official from the Tokyo Metropolitan Police Department.
On the night of June 23, about a week before the ordinance came into force, young girls dressed in maid costumes and other outfits solicited customers in Tokyo’s Akihabara.
A Kyodo News reporter, aged 27, telephoned a JK business about organising a “walking date”, a service where customers go for a stroll with a young girl. After a short wait, a young woman clad in a uniform appeared at the designated meeting spot in front of a train station ticket gate.
After agreeing to an interview at a nearby restaurant, Ryoko [not her real name] said that she had worked at another JK business until she graduated from high school last year.
Asked about the “unofficial options” in which sexual services are provided, Ryoko said: “Everyone was doing it [at the other shop]. There were girls who made more than 100,000 yen (about US$880) per day for prostitution.”
She appeared to be aware of Tokyo’s new law too. “The police come inside, so there are no more real JK (active high school girls) at the shop. Most of [the business] is being arranged over the internet, through enko [compensated dating] services.
Compensated dating is the practice in which older men give money or other luxury gifts, usually to adolescent girls or housewives, for companionship or possible sexual favours.
After calling on a JK rifure [JK reflexology] shop, which refers to pseudo-therapeutic bed-sharing or massage services, a reporter waited inside a room rented in a building used by a range of businesses. The uniform-clad 19-year-old who arrived at the door said she attends a college in the Tokyo metropolitan area.
After agreeing to answer some questions, she said she worked at a family restaurant in high school, but that she went down the JK path because she makes much more money this way. “The pay is totally different. You have to be an idiot to work in a regular job,” she said.
But when asked about her future, her gaze dropped as she said, “I don’t have dreams. I wonder if it’s okay for me to continue with this kind of work”.
According to the Metropolitan Police Department, there were about 230 JK businesses operating at the end of 2016, but that number dropped to 140 by the end of May this year. Of those that continued, 30 provide call-out services, meaning they do not maintain offices or rooms from which the young women work.
In April, 20 high school girls working in the JK business in four Tokyo districts, including tourist and shopping hot-spots Akihabara and Ikebukuro, were rounded up by police who offered advice about their options outside of the industry.
Police are hopeful that the changes will stem the tide of young girls being exploited in JK businesses.
“There were shops closing before the ordinance went into force, and there will be even more now,” said one police official.
In the months of April and May, the Metropolitan Police Department visited students at 267 middle schools and high schools in the Tokyo metropolitan area to warn children about the dangers of becoming drawn into and victimised by sex work through the world of JK and internet porn.
Police plan to continue efforts to educate young people in order to minimise the harm caused.
Lighthouse, a non-profit organisation that provides counselling services to victims of human-trafficking, especially in the sex industry in Japan, welcomes the adoption of the ordinance but warns more is needed to keep children from being taken advantage of in the sex work industry.
“For the children who might inadvertently step on this path we need to create an environment where it is easy for them to talk to someone,” said the non-profit’s representative Shihoko Fujiwara.
Earlier last week, the US State Department issued the 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report. Japan was graded Tier-2, the second rank on a four-level scale, which contains nations that fail to “fully meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.” The report said variants of the JK business continue to facilitate sex trafficking of children.
The new ordinance categorises JK businesses into five types, including “reflexology”, “walking dates” and “photography shoots,” but maid cafes or cosplay restaurants do not fall under the law.
JK operators are now obliged to register their business with the Tokyo Metropolitan Public Safety Commission and make official a list of employees, allowing their ages to be verified. Police officers are also now entitled to conduct on-site inspections.
The safety commission is permitted to issue administrative guidance or shut down such businesses for violations. Business owners and employees who do not meet their obligations could face up to one year in prison or a fine of up to 1 million yen (US$8,900).