National / Crime & Legal

Fukuoka police expand undercover network to halt teen prostitution

Kyodo

Amid the growing problem of teenage prostitution in Japan, Fukuoka Prefectural Police are stepping up surveillance on young girls who are offering sex via the internet and trying to prevent such cases by posing as potential clients.

The police also are calling on parents to keep a close eye on their children in the summer, when kids spend more of their free time outside.

Last year, 533 teenage girls aged 18 or younger were found offering their services and taken into police custody nationwide. The number was about 20 percent higher than in the previous year.

“Who is available for e around lunch time,” read a message with an offer for a sexual encounter discovered by a Fukuoka police officer. E was a secret code for enjo kosai, or compensated dating, which often involves sex.

The officer, who wrote back to arrange a meeting and ask what time the author was available, didn’t have to wait long.

He managed to decipher the girl’s short message to find out she was ready to make a deal for ¥15,000 and was demanding he use condoms.

Prostitution by males and females under 18 breaks the Law on Punishment of Activities Relating to Child Prostitution and Child Pornography.

When asked her age, the girl replied: “18!”

The girl insisted they meet on a corner of a residential area within the city of Fukuoka.

The officer was waiting in his car when he noticed a young girl with brown hair and high-heel shoes approach.

“Are you really 18?” he asked.

“Sorry, I’m only 17,” she said.

The officer showed his police ID to the girl after chatting with her for about five minutes and confirming her intention.

“I thought it was suspicious,” the teenager mumbled when she saw the police ID.

The practice of sending undercover police officers to take underage girls into custody was first introduced by the Shizuoka Prefectural Police in 2009. Ten other prefectures, including Fukuoka, joined the move in April 2013. It had spread across the country by October the same year.

Judging the situation as getting worse, the Fukuoka police in May increased the number of police stations tasked with preventing exploitation of schoolgirls to 15, or nearly four times the original number. It also established a support center for juvenile delinquents.

Parents of girls caught in the activity are called to the police station. Officers say many are shocked after learning what their children have done.

The investigator who caught the girl pretending to be 18 said the she started engaging in prostitution in junior high school. Since the beginning of this year, she has been involved in paid sex five or six times.

The girl has been raised only by her mother, who was too busy working to notice her daughter’s behavior.

With parental consent, the police may conduct surveillance. In such cases, support centers for juveniles monitor those caught for prostitution by visiting their homes or calling them to follow up.

That’s not always enough.

The Fukuoka Prefectural Board of Education says many schoolgirls are lured during the summer break.

To prevent further exploitation, the board in June issued a notice to all public schools in the prefecture to avoid falling prey to the sex business.

“In many cases parents don’t know what their children are doing over the internet,” said an officer at the Fukuoka Prefectural Police Juvenile Section.

“They need to communicate with their children on a daily basis,” the officer added, stressing that healthy family relationships may help prevent children from getting involved with strangers.