OSAKA – Cases of forced prostitution and human trafficking were reported by 46 people across 17 prefectures in 2016, including 25 Japanese — the most since 2001, the National Policy Agency said Thursday.
But one group involved in combating the crimes said the numbers represent only a portion of the true total.
Eighty percent of the victims were in their teens and 20s. The youngest victims, both 15, were Japanese and Vietnamese. There were also eight Thais, seven Cambodians, and five Filipinos.
Of the total, 37 were forced into the sex trade, often through so-called deai (encounter) cell phone sites.
Arata Sakamoto, secretary-general of Lighthouse, a nonprofit organization that supports victims of sex trafficking and other abuse, said several factors suggest that the police agency’s numbers don’t tell the full story.
“I think these figures are just the tip of the iceberg,” he said. “There are lot of victims who haven’t been disclosed or haven’t been found. There are also a lot of people who, even though they have been victimized, do not recognize that they are victims.”
Sakamoto cited a scam in which women are tricked into prostitution while visiting host clubs. The women are lured in by offers of free drinks, but after repeat trips, they are hit with a bill that can be in the millions of yen and told they can pay it off by working in the sex industry.
The women often think they have done something wrong and have no choice but to comply, instead of realizing that they’re being targeted as victims.
Sakamoto said the rise in disclosed cases reflects government efforts to more thoroughly address the problem. But he also called for a deeper investigation into how people are victimized.
“It’s not just traditional soaplands that are the problem,” he said, referring to bathhouses that offer sexual services. “The number of women tricked into having sex on camera in the adult video industry is increasing. In human trafficking, the women are tricked into having sex and a third party profits. It’s the same in parts of the adult video industry.”
In its 2016 report on global human trafficking, the U.S. State Department said Japanese citizens, particularly teenage runaways, were subjected to sex trafficking. The report also noted the presence of sophisticated and organized prostitution networks online and in public areas like subways and popular youth hangouts. The networks target girls who are often in poverty or have mental disabilities.
“Japan needs to update its legal framework to fully criminalize all forms of trafficking in accordance with the definition in international law, including to criminalize those who recruit, transport, transfer, or receive individuals for forced labor sex trafficking,” the report said.