Young women in danger / ‘I had no choice but to prostitute myself’

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Young women in danger / ‘I had no choice but to prostitute myself’ECPAT/STOP Japan

The Yomiuri ShimbunThis is the third installment of a series.

 

The 16-year-old girl from the Kanto area was in her third year of middle school last year when she was accosted by a man as she walked alone on a crowded street.

“You want money, don’t you? I’ll give you some if you come with me,” he said, then took her by the hand and led her to a hotel.

She had been beaten by her mother’s boyfriend and did not want to return home. She lacked money — she could not go to a clinic when she got sick, and she struggled to pay for her extracurricular activities and English proficiency tests. With the ¥5,000 the man gave her, she bought herself some indoor shoes and stationery.

Even now, there are times when she gets frightened and cannot stop hyperventilating when she sees middle-aged and older men. “I blame myself for accepting the money, but I had no choice.”

‘We Were Bought’

In August, an exhibition titled “Dear Adults: We Were Bought” was held in Tokyo by Colabo, a general incorporated association that provides support for middle and high school girls who were victims of sexual or physical abuse. Twenty-four middle and high school girls, including the 16-year-old Kanto girl, shared their experiences and thoughts on prostitution through photographs and in writing.

“My parents separated and I turned to prostitution and stealing because I wanted my family to notice me,” one girl wrote. “When I posted on an app for finding friends and getting personal advice, I ended up being forced into having sex with someone who said he wanted to meet.”

The 11-day exhibition drew roughly 3,000 people of all ages, and it caused a stir.

“A lot of people have the impression that young women engage in prostitution because they want extra money to entertain themselves,” said Yumeno Nito, a Colabo representative. “However, there are many girls who do not fit in at home or school due to problems such as abuse, poverty or bullying. These girls are in socially vulnerable positions and often become the victims of prostitution. Adults looking to buy sex pretend to offer their help in order to get close to them.”

 

Lower age groups targeted

This year, the Health, Labor, and Welfare Ministry conducted a survey on child prostitution and child pornography with child guidance centers nationwide, which dealt with abuse cases in the six-month period from April to September last year. Around 2,300 child welfare officers responded to the survey.

There were a total of 266 victims, with more than 90 percent of them girls. Eighty percent of the victims were middle and high school students aged 13 to 18. The abuse had clearly spread to lower age groups, with primary school students and preschoolers making up the other 20 percent.

Regarding their situations at home, 36 percent were from single-parent households, 27 percent had a guardian who was psychologically or physically unstable, 27 percent had a guardian who was indifferent toward them, and 24 percent were experiencing economic difficulties. There were also a number of girls who had dysfunctional relationships with their parents, ran away from home or spent nights away from home without permission.

There were also many cases in which the victims had disabilities — around one-third of the victims in the ministry survey had conditions such as intellectual disabilities or developmental disorders. It is believed they are more easily victimized because they are often unaware of the fact that they are victims.

One 21-year-old woman who participated in Colabo’s exhibition has a mild intellectual disability. Since her parents would not do things such as clean her clothes or prepare her food, she worked part-time. At times she had trouble paying for food, so she had several prostitution clients who would pay for her meals.

“There were times when I would get taken to a hotel by a man I met on the street, and I would later get him to buy me food at a convenience store as a form of thanks,” she recalls.

It is considered important to both economically and emotionally support the families of children facing difficulties. Naomi Yuzawa, a professor of social welfare at Rikkyo University, who headed the ministry survey, said: “Running away from home or spending nights away from home without permission are behaviors that mean a child wants and needs help. Children who feel compelled to do these things need proper support, as well as places and facilities where they can feel safe.”

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