Who's to blame?

It was only a few years ago when an incident occurred in Kyoto where 262 women were lured into a bar, coerced into financial debt and then unable to pay the debt, sent to brothels.


Instead of sympathy for the victims, public opinion included victim-blaming comments such as:


“The girls who were deceived are also at fault, right?”


“A girl wearing a revealing mini-skirt is also to blame”


A culture of victim-blaming only drives victims of trafficking deeper into darkness. There are many victims who wrongly think, “I am at fault. I was deceived so it is my responsibility,” and consequently are unable to seek out anyone to help them. But no matter what has happened, it is the deceiver or trafficker that is to blame for exploiting the victim’s vulnerability.


No matter how a man or woman is dressed while walking down the street, there is never a valid reason to justify rape or molestation. Of course, it is necessary to dress appropriately in our society, based on the situation and considering those around us, but this cannot be a reason to justify sexual assaults or make light of sexual crimes.


The suspect, Kensuke Kishii, himself a brothel owner, trafficked the 262 women to brothels in Kyoto by systematically gathering good-looking male college students and offered them 3,000,000 yen a month (about 30,000 USD) to deceive the women. He also created a detailed manual to instruct the men how to deceive the women.


Mr. Kishii focused on young college women in the downtown area of Kyoto and lured them into the bar he was running after they became romantically involved with the young men. From there, he got the women into debt and then assigned them to work at a brothel, where his share equaled about 15% of the women’s income every month.


This was a case of meticulous planning and clever mind control.


If your own daughter, sister, friend, girlfriend, niece, or grandchild was the victim of this kind of scheme, a response of “you’re at fault” is neither appropriate nor conducive to encourage them in their journey towards recovery.


From a cultural point of view, Japanese people emphasize the value of being careful, taking responsibility for our actions and avoiding risky situations that can cause harm or trouble to others in society. It is therefore easy to fall in the trap and make harsh comments towards victims or those displaying inappropriate behavior on the internet or even during casual everyday conversations. We need to be able to discuss these issues openly, especially with young people that place themselves at risk, but the appropriate setting and timing of the discussion is crucial.


There are many women, children and even men who are victims of human trafficking. Traffickers also shrewdly play on victims’ self-blaming, guilt, shame and sense to conceal things.


A serious problem that further compounds the issue of human trafficking in Japan is the sense of self-responsibility the victims feel. This type of behavior provides cover for the perpetrators and pushes the victims further away. What we need most is “security and safety.” For this reason, I hope that we can be a society that is able to support and stand by those who have been affected.