Abused girls unveil reality of sex industry in Tokyo exhibition

Colabo representative Yumeno Nito explains the aim of the exhibition at the Kagurazaka Session House theater in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, on Aug. 10, 2016. (Mainichi)

An exhibition featuring works created by teen girls and other women who have been exploited in the sex industry including through “enjo kosai,” or compensated dating, and so-called “JK businesses” that provide various types of companionship services with high school girls as a result of abuse at home and poverty is being held in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward.

The event is titled, “Dear Adults: We Were Bought.” Pieces exhibited in the event include the girls’ diaries and panels describing their experiences of sexual abuse and situations that led them to prostitution.

“I got pregnant with my father’s baby at the end of my first year in high school. I got an abortion and then started sleeping at homes of random men,” reads an account by one of the girls participating in the exhibition, while another one says, “People who were willing to let me stay after I left home were either men buying me or customers or scouts at sex-related operations.” Another exhibition piece says, “My boyfriend started making money off of me.”

The exhibition also features pictures of streets and hotel hallways where the girls would hang around to get customers to convey their feelings. The pictures were taken by photographer Yuki Morita who had talked to the girls involved in such businesses about their experiences.

The exhibition was organized by a group of girls who have connections with the organization Colabo, which supports troubled young girls, and a total of 24 women aged between 14 and 26 took part in the event.

The participating girls and women held a news conference on Aug. 10 and said they hoped the event would help people become aware of the circumstances and backgrounds of the girls who engage in prostitution. One of the girls told the news conference, “Police only take the children who are in vulnerable positions into custody and reprimand them (for involvement in the sex industry), but we want them to warn the adults who buy girls.”

Another girl said she thought she was not alone after learning that there were other girls who have experienced the same as she has.

The exhibition title was decided through discussions among the girls when they revealed that they felt like they had been “bought” rather than “sold themselves.”

“The business of prostitution only exists because there are adults who propose deals to the girls who are troubled for different reasons,” says Yumeno Nito, 26, the head of Colabo. “I want people to know that there are girls who live in this harsh reality.”

Lawyer Yuri Kawamura, an expert in sexual exploitation of children, praised the exhibition, saying, “It is meaningful that the girls (subject to human trafficking) who have never opened up about their experiences are giving accounts on the reality in their own words.” She added that those who fall victim to sexual exploitation usually are the ones who need public protection and they are dragged into the sex industry due to the lack of child welfare safety nets. She explains, “The reality is that the seemingly nice adults approach the girls who have nowhere to go and sweet-talk them into their businesses.”

The exhibition is being held at the Kagurazaka Session House theater in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward through Aug. 21 and is open from noon to 8 p.m. daily. It will close at 5 p.m. on the last day. The admission fee is 1,500 yen for adults and free of charge for children of high school age or under.

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