Google “boys trafficking in Japan”, and you’re likely to end up with little or no results. There might be some references to the child pornography legislation or cases involving children in general, but it is quite rare to find something that deals specifically with boys.
Does that mean that boys in Japan are not subjected to child sex trafficking? No. The 2020 Trafficking In Persons report makes it clear that boys of various nationalities (including Japanese) are being sex trafficked in Japan:
Enjo kosai or “compensated dating” services and variants of the “JK” business, often with ties to organized crime, continue to facilitate the sex trafficking of Japanese boys and girls; underage youth from China, South Korea, Laos, the Philippines, Singapore, and Vietnam are also reportedly exploited in these establishments. - 2020 TIP report
The sex trafficking of boys under 18 is a very real, but hidden problem. Perhaps it is because the idea of a boy or man being the victim of a sex crime is still a new concept to society. The Penal Code in Japan was only amended as recently as 2017 to include men in the definition of rape victim, and we probably still have a long way to go before recognizing boys and men as victims of commercial sexual exploitation.
So how do young boys fall in the trap?
One of the most common ways is through online games. Traffickers identify innocent young boys as their targets, and then set up a fake profile pretending to be just another player within a similar age group. The fake profile and message exchanges are highly convincing, and even parents can easily be fooled thinking that the other player is indeed a child living down the road.
Once a trust relationship is established with the child, traffickers often take the discussion offline through other platforms such as LINE, where they focus on extracting sensitive information and isolating the child from his family. Some traffickers arrange to meet the child in person where he might be sexually assaulted, or others start sending sexually explicit materials to the child, preying on his sexual curiosity and demanding that images are sent in return. Children that don’t comply are quickly reminded that the trafficker has sensitive information that will be used against them or their families if they don’t cooperate. This is known as sextortion.
Due to the limited information available in Japan, we have to look at external data for some additional insights. An analysis of the Cybertipline reports of the USA’s National Center for Missing & Exploited Children has found the following trend in their 2017 data:
When children were in direct communication with offenders, boys —especially older boys—were disproportionately more likely to have sent sexually explicit content of themselves, received sexually explicit images of offenders or engaged in reciprocal/mutual exchange of sexually explicit images and made specific plans to meet offenders in person. - Cybertipline
During 2021, ZOE Japan actively distributed child trafficking prevention materials on social media through several campaigns, targeting Japanese teenage boys. We were surprised to see a significantly high engagement rate from boys aged 13-19, with many visiting our online profile and website for more information about our hotline and consultation services. Our conclusion is that Japan might be following a similar trend as the US, where thousands of boys find themselves in trouble for exchanging sexually explicit images with online traffickers.
And although these boys are yet to take the next step to reach out for help, we are grateful that we could help them realize that what happened to them is wrong, and it is not their fault.
Would you like to help us raise awareness among boys? Go to our Twitter profile at @ZOEJapan7 and retweet our awareness posts!
If Twitter is not your thing but you still want to contribute, please consider sponsoring a paid awareness campaign. We recommend a minimum donation of 3,000Yen. Specify “Twitter” when you make a donation to ZOE, and the full amount will be used for the Twitter campaign! We can even provide a feedback report on the impact if you want to see the return on your investment.
With your help, we can declare game over for traffickers, and victory for boys!