The number of minors falling prey to sexual crimes through social media last year climbed to a record, police data released Thursday showed.
Social media apps have increasingly become the conduit through which these crimes occur, while incidents targeting underage people through chat services have declined, according to a report by the National Police Agency.
In 2016, 1,736 people under the age of 18 were targeted, exceeding the record set in 2015 by 84 and more than doubling the cases tallied in 2008, when police began keeping records.
Females accounted for 94.8 percent of the victims, and 86.9 percent of all victims used smartphones. In the 1,465 cases where police were able to check the settings of the mobiles devices, 88.2 percent had no internet filtering, the report said.
“There are dangers in regular applications and websites people commonly use, and they can be victimized depending on how they use the services,” an NPA official said, urging parents to install internet filters to protect their children.
An organization of online site operators will be set up within this fiscal year to take preventive measures as well, the official said.
The largest number of cases in the study were those involving Twitter, which at 446 was nearly doubled the previous year’s figure. Those involving the Gyaruru chat app fell to 136 from 203.
There were 42 underage victims of crimes involving online dating sites, a drop of 51 recorded cases from 2015, reflecting a steady decline since regulations for such sites came into force in 2003.
Under the law, online dating sites need to be registered and set a minimum age restriction of 18. But applying such regulations to social network services may be more difficult than with adult-oriented sites.
Many victims were 16, accounting for 25.9 percent of the total, followed by 17-year-olds at 24.2 percent, 15-year-olds at 18.6 percent, and 14-year-olds at 17.5 percent. The youngest victim was 9.
By crime, 38.1 percent of were victims of molestation and other violations of ordinances for protecting minors. Child pornography accounted for 32.4 percent, and child prostitution 24.5 percent. Twenty minors were abducted.
Among the 1,331 cases where police were able to confirm the reasons why the victims agreed to meet the perpetrators, more than 40 percent were linked to paid dating, with 34.1 percent citing “money or goods” and 9.8 percent to “sexual purposes.”
The study shows 17.9 percent met the offenders “for friendship” and 17.7 percent did so based on them being nice or listening to the respondents.
About half said they did not remember being educated on safe internet use, while the remainder were unaware of the potential dangers of internet use. The police are urging parents to monitor their children’s internet use through filters and by calling on site administrators to introduce internet zoning — a way of walling off adult sites from minors.
“We can reduce such crimes by taking certain countermeasures. We want site operators to take effective measures by looking into steps taken by other operators,” an NPA official in charge of the survey said.
People are also taking matters into their own hands. Over 200 organizations with more than 8,000 people across Japan are cyber-patrolling or holding classes for children on internet safety.
Student organizations comprising nearly 40 percent of such groups have been reporting unlawful websites or posts and have helped police in a number of investigations, the police said.