TV & Radio
The Times October 31, 2005
Police powers to smash sex slave trade
From Leo Lewis in Tokyo
UNDER fire for its sluggish action on eliminating human trafficking, Japan is this week expected to bring in new laws to enable tougher police curbs on the brokers and buyers of women forced to work as sex slaves.
Japan remains acutely embarrassed by a 2004 US State Department report condemning the world’s second-biggest economy for its failure adequately to address the problem, and placing it on a watch list with offenders such as Cambodia and Ivory Coast.
Although a more recent version of the survey praised Japan’s efforts to improve the situation, it remains a “tier two” country since its thriving sex industry remains a lucrative destination for those who traffic women from Thailand, the Philippines, Colombia and Belarus. Placement in the tier two category denotes a country that fails to meet the minimum standards for eliminating human trafficking. The US report concluded that Japan “has yet to make a significant effort to lessen the domestic demand for trafficking victims”.
The impending changes to the law will come into effect next spring and make the manager of any establishment in the sex or entertainment industry criminally liable for employing anyone without proper legal documentation. Keiko Otsu, who runs a secret shelter in Tokyo for women who escape from their captors, described to The Times a constant fear that haunts the women who arrive at her door. “They are genuinely terrified, often trembling uncontrollably,” she said. They know that they can’t go to the police because they have no visas. They fear that if they are spotted coming to the shelter they will be killed, or that their families back home will be hurt by thugs.
“They live under the weight of a fake debt, which means that they have to have sex with about ten customers a day, and there are fines for any tiny thing they do wrong that just adds to the debt and keeps them as slaves forever.” The tardiness of Tokyo’s moves on human trafficking was highlighted when the concept itself was accepted into Japanese law only in July this year.
Although many MPs hoped that the law would clear the way for raids on the managers of brothels, massage parlours and hostess bars, the first three months have hardly seen it used. The first prosecution was carried out last week, when the Taiwanese manageress of a club in the town of Nagano was arrested for buying a 24-year-old Indonesian woman for use as a sex slave. The trafficked woman is understood to have been sold for about £10,000.
Much of the criticism of Japan centres on its failure to support the kind of shelter run by Ms Otsu. A report by the International Labour Organisation said: “Victims should receive protection and rehabilitation. In practice they are often arrested, detained and deported. (They) frequently bear all the costs of the deception they have undergone, while the traffickers are rarely prosecuted.”
- Japan’s underground sex trade is worth £43 billion