In the News / Shihoko Fujiwara / Tackling human trafficking in Japan

December 11, 2013
Takehito Ishihara / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

Human trafficking in such forms as forcing women into prostitution or labor by using violence and threats is a serious crime by international standards. This includes forcing runaway girls to engage in “enjo kosai” (compensated dating) or making someone with whom you are in a relationship work in the sex industry. In Japan, however, many people are not fully aware of the seriousness of these actions.

Shihoko Fujiwara, who founded the nonprofit organization Polaris Project Japan in 2004, is trying to change that.

“Human trafficking isn’t happening in a faraway foreign country or in the distant past. It is happening right here, right now. It may not be noticeable as it takes the form of violence against a partner, for example,” said Fujiwara, 32.

So far, her NPO has received 3,200 inquiries, and rescued more than 150 people by placing them in shelters or taking other measures. The group has has lent money to foreign victims to enable them to fly back to their home countries.

“Consultations with Japanese victims have increased to account for 40 percent of the total, and their ages are becoming younger and younger,” Fujiwara said.

When Fujiwara was studying in the United States, she was “shocked and embarrassed” by a news report about a Japanese man who paid a child for sex in Southeast Asia, she recalled. She then began working for the headquarters of Polaris in the United States. After returning to Japan, she launched a Polaris branch in Tokyo.

Next year, to coincide with the branch’s 10th anniversary, Fujiwara plans to step up the fight against “the sexual exploitation of children, which has become increasingly commercialized.”

Driven by a fervent passion, Fujiwara travels around the country and overseas with extraordinary enthusiasm on her quest to end human trafficking.

“In Japan, a multitude of things still need to be done,” she said. “I want to change people’s tendency to turn a blind eye to such things.”

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