Police investigated a record 1,813 cases involving minors who fell victim to sexual and other crimes perpetrated through the use of social media in 2017, official data showed Thursday.
The figure, which excludes cases involving online dating services, is believed to have been pushed up by an increasing number of children who are coerced into sending naked photos of themselves to people they met online, according to police.
The number of such cases was up 77 from a year earlier to the highest level since comparable data became available, in 2008, the National Police Agency said.
“Children may start discussing or sharing their worries (through social media) but could be threatened by (users) who obtain their personal data through online interactions,” an NPA official said.
A spate of crimes was reported in which perpetrators impersonated children of a similar age to the victim, using fake profile photos, in order to meet or have the victim send them explicit selfies.
“It is important for us to step up our efforts as a society as a whole to prevent children from being victimized,” NPA Commissioner General Shunichi Kuryu said at a news conference, adding that police will continue to raise public awareness.
Of the total, 702 minors were victims of sexual misconduct and other crimes in violation of a law on juvenile protection — a figure that has remained almost flat over the last few years.
Breaches of a law prohibiting child prostitution and pornography have been on the rise in recent years, with child prostitution victims totaling 447 in 2017. The number has nearly doubled from 226 in 2013.
Minors in child pornography cases including those involving naked selfies reached 570, up from 341 in 2013.
A total of 61 children fell prey to serious crimes, including 24 rapes and 21 abductions. There were no murders recorded.
By age group, 51.9 percent of victims were of high school age, 37.2 percent in junior high school and 2.3 percent in elementary school.
The youngest victim was an 8-year-old third-grade girl who was convinced to send an image to someone she met through YouTube.
Twitter and other online services that enable mass communication with multiple users were found to be used by many victims. The number of victims of crimes using such services stood at 855 in 2017, while those using online chat services was 579.
Of 1,468 minors who met up with perpetrators in person after becoming acquainted online, 29.6 percent said they did so to receive money and gifts, followed by 22.9 percent who said they were treated kindly or received advice and 17 percent who were looking for friends.