Should abusing a virtual teenage girl be outlawed?

Debate over this has heated up in Japan, after dozens of British lawmakers in February called on their government to halt sales of video games involving sexual violence, targeting by name the Japanese computer game “Rapelay.”

The software lets players try to rape and impregnate a virtual woman and her two daughters, who arguably look like schoolgirls.

The debate here has been roiled further with Diet members proposing legislation that would ban possession of certain kinds of child pornography. The bills, as they now stand, would only regulate pornographic content with photographic images of real humans, but some lawmakers argue that “manga,” “anime” and video games should be included.

Japan currently has no regulations on pornographic material if it is in the form of illustrations, anime or video game graphics — even if it depicts sexual abuse of children.

Elsewhere, according to the Foreign Ministry’s Human Rights and Humanitarian Affairs Division, nonphotographic images can be considered illegal in the United States, Britain, France, Italy, Canada and Germany if they include depictions of excessive sexual abuse.

“The concept of laws preventing child porn varies between countries,” division spokeswoman Yuki Okada said. “For example, France and Canada have the most strict laws and they regulate anime, manga and computer graphics almost in the same way as photographs and videotapes.”

One of the problems the British Parliament had with “Rapelay” was that it was being sold on Amazon.co.uk without having been screened by the British Board of Film Classification.

To ward off similar criticism, the Ethics Organization of Computer Software, a Japanese industry group that screens software before going on sale, announced this month it is prohibiting group members from producing “sexually abusive” software.

Group spokesman Koichi Ashida declined to reveal its definition of “sexually abusive,” saying it is an internal regulation for group members only.

About 90 percent of Japan’s adult game makers belong to the organization, which has 233 member companies, according to Ashida.

Toru Okumura, a lawyer familiar with pornography cases, said the situation will not change fundamentally unless laws are introduced.

“Even if the group approves software that may be considered too vulgar by ordinary people’s standards, the software will not be illegal,” he said.

Okumura asserted that the group would probably approve, for example, a game with a fully clothed young female character being raped.

He pointed out that the Nihon Ethics of Video Association, a counterpart group for producers of live-action videos and DVDs, has a similar self-imposed restriction. The bottom line, however, is that anything is allowed unless the authorities consider it “indecent,” and live-action DVDs depicting rape line rental video store shelves.

“The only clear-cut line between decent and indecent in reality is the mosaic that blurs genitals,” he said.

Okumura’s concern is shared by Equality Now, an international female rights group. “Although we are glad that the EOCS has taken this step, they are still a voluntary body and we continue to encourage the Japanese government to take legal measures,” member Anber Raz said in an e-mail.

Japan is often criticized for being too lenient on pornography, and rights groups are frustrated with Japanese politicians for their inaction.

“Politicians listen to some Japanese who think anime does not victimize anybody because no one is videotaped or photographed in it. But those people overlook the right of children who are forced to see what they do not want to see or the right of parents who want to prevent their children from seeing such material on the Internet,” said UNICEF Japan official Hiromasa Nakai.

Currently in Japan, the child pornography law and Article 175 of the Criminal Code regulate pornography.

However, Justice Ministry officials say anime, manga and video games are not covered by the laws because they have no photographic or live-action video content.

The Liberal Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Japan submitted separate bills this Diet session that would make possession of child pornographic products a punishable crime. The current law states that possession of such material is a crime only if it is held with the intention of selling or giving it to others.

The LDP’s bill would oblige the government to conduct research on possible causal links between infringement of children’s rights and manga, animation and computer graphics. The intention would be that such links would lead to regulation of those products.

Eriko Yamatani of the LDP is among lawmakers trying to place regulations now on child pornography in anime, manga and video game products.

“The (LDP) bill is not strong enough. We must take more concrete measures quickly,” said Yamatani, who wants to change the bill so anime porn is treated the same as live-action porn. “I want parents and the media to raise their voices more to prompt more politicians to take action.”

The DPJ’s bill targets only products depicting live action.

An official at the DPJ policy research council said the purpose of the child pornography law is to protect children from sexual abuse, and thus it should not regulate manga, anime or video games. However, the DPJ has deep concerns about sexual violence in those products and is weighing how to regulate it, he added.

Okumura pointed out that even under current regulations, police can crack down on anime and manga porn if they ever change their view of what constitutes “indecency.” The Criminal Code’s Article 175 prohibits sale and display of “indecent” documents, drawings and other material.

But police would need a reason to think anime porn could induce more crimes than, for example, live-action DVDs with blurred genitalia, which are now treated as legally acceptable by the authorities.

“Those who oppose anime porn have to present study results showing games and anime increase crime. Otherwise, police and the judicial system won’t change their view,” he said. “Pornographic Web sites and DVDs are everywhere in many languages, and police cannot crack down on all of them.”

The female rights group Equality Now says on its Web site that it has received an unprecedented amount of “hate mail” since it protested “Rapelay” and other pornographic manga, anime and games. Much of the mail opposes any regulation of manga or anime.

“Many of these messages have referred to statistics of rape in Japan that are reportedly far lower than in the U.S.,” the group says.

In the age of the Internet and cyberspace, national borders mean little, UNICEF’s Nakai said, noting users in any country can buy games made in Japan and share them with strangers over the Internet.

Also, the World Congress III Against the Sexual Exploitation of Children, joined by 125 countries, recognized that virtual content can be pornographic and infringe on children’s rights, Nakai said.

“Politicians must realize the world is connected via the Internet,” he said. “The law must be altered accordingly.”

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