Live chatrooms prey on young, runaway girls

The Yomiuri Shimbun

May 6, 2013

  Mikoto Hata and Yayoi Kawatoko / The Yomiuri Shimbun Live chats, a type of real-time webcast, have rapidly become pervasive in offering adult content at a low cost. However, the arrest of three men in February revealed that sites hosting such chats are breeding grounds for child pornography, particularly targeting runaway girls.

“Help me. I’m imprisoned here.”

  In mid-December, a naked girl appearing on a computer screen pleaded for help. She gave her name, the name of the man who confined her and the address of the condominium building where she was being held in Adachi Ward, Tokyo.
On Dec. 18, shortly after her plea for help, a police-related organization received an anonymous e-mail about the girl. Officers rushed to the site and took the victim into protective custody.

  The girl, 17, said she ran away from her home in Tochigi Prefecture in March last year. She had no place to go, and within a month of leaving home she was lured into the live chatroom.
At first, she was confined in a multi-tenant building in the Ikebukuro district of Toshima Ward, Tokyo, after which she was moved to the condominium. She had to appear online almost every day from 10 p.m. to 3 a.m., to talk with viewers and sometimes perform indecent acts when requested.
Though sales from the live chatroom reached about 1 million yen a month, the girl was paid only about 4,000 yen a week and mostly confined to a seven-square-meter room. The girl was quoted as saying, “Because I had nowhere to go, I had no choice but to do it.”

  Live chats provide a service using a personal computer and a web camera in which users can talk with another person while watching him or her on their computer screen. While some of these chats are free, other sites showing indecent footage, such as women taking off their clothes, can charge about 100 yen per minute.

  In the Adachi case, three men were arrested by the Metropolitan Police Department on suspicion of violating the law prohibiting child prostitution and child pornography. All three had their sentences finalized, with each given a 500,000 yen fine.
“I knew it was illegal to have a 17-year-old girl online, but I had no job and was short on cash. I can easily make money this way,” one of the chatroom operators said. “It’s easy to find a runaway girl downtown or recruit them through an online message board. All I have to do is to provide a place to live.”Only a personal computer and a camera priced at about 10,000 yen are needed to start such a business. “The initial investment was 100,000 yen. Anyone can do it,” the man boasted.

  Live chat services were introduced in about 2002. Users can watch a live stream captured by a web camera attached to a computer. Among the programs
that charge viewers, the number of those showing adult content with indecent images is said to be on the rise.
The president of a company operating chatrooms with adult content said about 240,000 women have registered with their service, 200 of whom work the sessions during peak late-night hours.Because the women do not have to deal with viewers in person, many of them treat the chats as a casual part-time job, the president said. “We have three to four times the amount of viewers for pay programs [than women employed.] The market seems to be valued at about 20 billion yen to 30 billion yen,” he added.

  In early April, a woman in her underwear smiled onscreen during a live chat. She explained that she was 18 years old and it was her third day. She said she was being filmed at an office in the Kanto region. “This is embarrassing, but it’s an easy part-time job anyone can do,” she said on-screen.
Another woman in a similar situation said casually, “I don’t think my parents watch this kind of program, so this should be OK.”

  However, the cases police are able to detect seem to be just a drop in the bucket. “Because the service is live and leaves few records, many cases lack evidence. In the case of a one-on-one chat, it’s even harder to trace,” a senior police officer explained.
An official of one live chat company said, “We try to avoid hiring girls younger than 18, but when a young woman fabricates her identification, there’s nothing we can do.”

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