JIN-438 -- Human Traffic

J@pan Inc Newsletter

The 'JIN' Japan Inc Newsletter
A weekly opinion piece on social, economic and political trends
in Japan.
Issue No. 438 Wednesday October 31, 2007, Tokyo

Human Traffic

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If you pay a visit to the regional immigration bureau in Tokyo
you will notice that one counter there has a garish pink sign
above it displaying the words 'Entertainers Only'—the area is
specially reserved for foreigners, predominantly females,
coming to work in the entertainment industry in Japan. The
troubled and undignified lives that many of the women have been
forced to live is regularly publicized. Often the story concerns
a victim from a Southeast Asian country (undoubtedly where many
of them are coming from) who is forced into prostitution, paid a
minimal wage and prevented from returning to their home
country by either shame or force. However, despite increasing
awareness and some efforts to regulate the industry, the
situation remains a major problem in Japan, and the wider issue
of human trafficking encompasses not only foreigners but also
Japanese victims who are coerced into labor they have little
hope of escaping from.

The sex industry in Japan is worth over US$80 billion a year and
has a constant demand for new workers. This has led to the
development of highly sophisticated recruitment procedures. In
many cases 'host clubs' or brothels have a subtle and robust
process in place. We learned that one club in Osaka that
recruits women from Thailand, sends back some of the older
girls to run an agency in Bangkok that offers young Thai women
a career in the entertainment industry in Japan—they often show
off expensive accessories as symbols of their successful career.
Many of the applicants receive some kind of training and because
the club's owner has a number of legitimate establishments as
well, it is very hard to find legal fault with the process.
Often the women who come will be flown out and start off
essentially as waitresses. They may be given expensive clothes
and treated to a luxury lifestyle—it is only later that they
are told that they are in 'X' amount of debt to the owner and
that they must pay this off by entering into prostitution.

We spoke to Shihoko Fujiwara, Coordinator of the Polaris
Project in Japan—an organization aiming to prevent human
trafficking. She told us that although there have been changes
to the law, the police are failing to identify victims and on
the contrary, women who turn to the police for help may even
find themselves being penalized for being on the wrong side of
the law. She also explains that the laws are poorly defined:
'Prostitution in Japan is defined only as penetrative sex so
many women are engaged in trading a wide variety of sexual
services but there is very little the police can do about that
because it falls outside the reach of the law.'

Furthermore, while the focus of public opinion and press
is on foreigners working in Japan, there are large numbers of
Japanese teenagers who have pimps or work independently as
prostitutes. Fujiwara elaborates that, 'in the sex trade,
younger is better—customers will pay more for younger girls so
this makes them more valuable.' In Japan, pimps actively go out
and recruit young women and there are 'deaikei' websites that
allow young girls to post comments offering to 'hang out' with
men for a fee—with no checks on who is posting and who is
replying, sites like this (such as booiboo) can be used by pimps
or organized crime groups to sell young women. Many of the girls
involved are lured into working in the sex industry by
experienced prowlers who take advantage of their youth and
naivety. Magazines, specifically aimed at young teenagers-
Ranzuki, for example-run adverts for the websites in question
so print and online media both promote the practice of
young girls listing publicly as well as legitimizing and
normalizing the sites and their users.

As an organization that aims to reduce human trafficking,
Fujiwara was keen to highlight that much of what Polaris do is
about raising awareness, particularly among victims. Many people
take a long time to come to full consciousness of the structures
by which they have been manipulated. Institutions, media and
social norms don't always allow people to be self-reflexive
about their own situations. For example, one Korean woman who
was being forced to work as a prostitute in Saitama first got
in touch with them to see if they could help one of her
customers who was being blackmailed by the organization she
worked for. Once she had made contact, Polaris were able to
help her see the realities of her own situation and she
ultimately managed to quit the industry.

Outside of the sex trade, Polaris are concerned by immigrant
workers or 'trainees' brought over from developing countries
by the government with the promise of receiving industrial
training and who end up doing hard manual labor for a token
salary and without regular employee protection. The activities
of the Japan International Training and Cooperation Organization
(JITCO) have been internationally criticized
(see http://www.japaninc.com/tt399) and most recently six
Vietnamese workers took the organization to court after being
compelled to work for a company that make parts for Toyota—
their personal documents had been taken control of and they
were paid less than US$600 a month.
(for more see http://www.debito.org/index.php/?p=619). Last
year JITCO brought over 85,000 'trainees' to Japan, the majority
of whom work doing welding in the automobile industry. According
to Fujiwara there is a growing awareness about this and the
system will have to be changed. Although Polaris deal
principally with female victims, they have also been contacted
in relation to other such trafficking abuses.

The Polaris Project in Japan helps victims by talking to them
and making them aware of their situation and of the support
services that are available. They have skills in talking to
victims and are keen to share these with local communities and
the police. They have hotlines in three languages and can also
provide counseling services. Additionally, they visit
communities and organizations presenting a 50-minute workshop
about the different types of trafficking and how to seek help
for victims. This is a free service which Polaris funds mainly
via charitable donations.

When asked what she would do if she was made head of the
Department of Justice tomorrow, Fujiwara told us that she would
create a Victim Protection Act—this would allow anyone to
identify trafficking victims and give them instant medical and
social support. This should also include a clause that doesn't
require victims to testify before they are eligible to receive
support—many women are too afraid to speak out at the moment and
so are unable to take advantage of the services to which they
have a right. She would also like to see a much tighter
prosecutions policy. At the moment, customers using prostitutes
are not liable to prosecution—'the law sees it as a moral
failure on the part of the women.'

If any readers are interested in having Polaris make a
presentation to them, would like further information or help,
or can offer support they should visit, www.polarisproject.jp
or contact the Polaris Project directly on info@polarisproject.jp

By Peter Harris
Chief Editor

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