High school dating should be about fun and innocence. However in Japan, there is an appalling culture of dates between high school girls and older men in their 50s. Meet Jun Tachibana who is working hard to change this terrible practice that preys on the young and vulnerable.
How did you first hear about this culture of high school girls going on paid dates with older men?
I first heard the story whilst interviewing teenage girls with difficulties (girls who felt that it was hard to lead their lives). Many girls were involved in paid dating. At the same time, the Japanese media was also covering stories on high school dating.
How well-known is this problem in Japan? Is this phenomenon known as just "rumours" or is it a fact?
In Japan, this problem is known as a fact because there are journalists reporting this issue. But not many people hear the stories from the girls themselves.
What type of girls are attracted to this industry? Do they walk down this path due to financial problems, or is it due to emotional or social problems (such as family issues)? Perhaps mental or emotional abuse?
Many of the girls are attracted to this industry due to living difficulties. There are girls who don’t feel safe at home because of family problems, poverty, abuse, neglect, or girls who feel they don’t belong in school. They need places they can earn money or where they feel they belong, accepted or needed. Sometimes, “normal girls” without problems in their daily lives are also attracted to this industry as it is an easy well-paid job, without knowing the risks. When girls search the internet for “high hourly wage” or “part time jobs”, information about “high school dating” hits the search engine. Pimps advertise the dating as if it is an easy and safe high-wage job. Vulnerable children are targeted the most.
Many girls involved in this industry have a tendency to:
- Have low self-esteem (some feel as if the recruiter and customers are the only ones who give them a sense of acceptance).
- Need money due to poverty, abuse, running away etc…
- Need to earn money in a short amount of time. It may be because they have to keep it secret from abusers so that the money is not taken away, or because they need to go back home early to care for family instead of their parents.
- Not know that there are places they can ask for help with financial or family problems. They feel that pimps and customers are the only way to help them earn money and find a place to stay.
What about those girls who argue that they know what they are doing, and want to be allowed to make a living?
Some know it is a dangerous job, but have no other choice in order to live. I think we need to have an easily accessible place where high school girls can connect to public services and social welfare. For example, a place like a café where high school girls can drop by and have a talk with staff who understand their vulnerability.
Is it a cultural issue? Or is it education that has allowed this industry to grow and flourish?
When it comes to culture, Japanese men tend to see high school girls as “sexually attractive”, and Japanese society also tends to allow it. Japanese society tends to think of child prostitution as the girls’ problem and girls are blamed instead of the man who bought them. Many tend to think that girls involved in high school dating are doing it just for money or for fun, and not many people know or care about their backgrounds (poverty, abuse, family problems, etc.) Japanese society doesn’t pay much attention to teenage difficulties, so when high school girls have nowhere to go, pimps and men wanting sexual relationships with girls tend to be the only ones paying attention to them.
Education is also a problem. In Japan, we do not have a proper program for sexual health education. Students don’t learn about safe sex, how to avoid pregnancy, sexually-transmitted disease, what is violence and what is not. We also don’t learn about sexual violence, exploitation and abuse in school, so both boys and girls tend to allow violence without realizing it is “violence”. They also don’t know that the high school dating business in Japan counts as sexual exploitation.
For those who are exploited - what can you do?
We patrol busy areas to find girls who might need help, and prevent girls from getting into trouble by offering consultation by email, telephone or face-to-face meetings. If they need more help, we introduce other specialists such as lawyers, doctors or child welfare specialists.
It is difficult for vulnerable high school girls to ask someone for help.
Listening to their stories allows us to help in several ways.
-It makes girls stop and think about themselves, about their real feeling, what they are going through, etc. We tell them that they have rights to say “no” for what they don’t want to do.
-Even if the girl thinks she is alright, she’d know where to call help when they get in danger or trouble. Girls will be safer with the right knowledge and connections.
-When they need help, or get in trouble, we can introduce or collaborate with other organizations.
-They might also suffer complex problems at home or school, so we hear backgrounds, and let them know that there are ways and people who can help them.
We talk to the media and the government about the background and troubles young girls are going through, and make society realize that it’s not the girl’s personal responsibility, but it’s an issue our society has to face and solve. It is not a matter of “young girls choosing their way to live”, it is about “child protection”.
Is it society's obligation to protect those who can't protect themselves?
It is society’s obligation to protect those who can’t protect themselves.
At the same time, it is also important to give them the ability to avoid troubles by allowing them chance to think about themselves. They should be able to meet various people that can shine a light on other ways of living.
What can Japan do about it? What can the world do about it?
Japanese society has to change their way of thinking about high school girls’ problems. It is a matter of child protection, sexual exploitation and child welfare.
International media has a strong influence on Japanese society. Reporting this issue in foreign countries can shake the perspective of the Japanese society and government.
The Bond Project works with many vulnerable young girls at risk. Donating is a great way to help us reach a child!
If you would like to donate to this worthy cause please log onto their main website at http://bondproject.jp/support.html#support_04