Readers: After we published our 2/27/04 newsletter, linking to the following piece, its writer, Jean Polly, heard from a school's Webmaster that it was questionable content for students and the school would not link to it. Jean subsequently took the article off her site, Netmom.com, and sent it to us in case we wanted to make it available to parents. We do! We feel it's important information for parents of cell-phone users to be aware of....
'Compensated Dating'and Cell Phones: Japanese Schoolgirls and Men Behaving Badlyby Jean Armour Polly
In order to pay their huge cell phone bills themselves, or help out Mom and Dad, girls have rediscovered the so-called "oldest profession." For an increasing number of young Japanese schoolgirls, "Hello Kitty" has been replaced by "Hello, Sailor."
In Japan, as in many parts of the world, teen status is sought through the acquisition of brand name "things." To young Ginza-goers it means Chanel handbags and Vuitton accoutrements. In the Shibuya and avant-garde Harajuku areas, Ground Zero for youth culture, hangers-on worship the "trend du moment," which currently includes lots of ripped clothing, expensive T-shirts, and body piercings.
Wherever and whatever the latest buzz, teens discuss it all on the one "must-have" accessory: their tiny Internet-enabled cell phones. Trouble is, neither the adornments nor the phone service come cheaply, and teen addiction to cell phone messaging and net surfing adds up to huge monthly bills.
Exercising their supposed God-given right to wear designer clothes, and empowered by their cell phones, girls post provocative ads on thinly-disguised "lonely hearts" dating web sites, which they access via their web-enabled cell phones. Just one quick liaison can garner them the equivalent of hundreds of dollars. Why work for hours at McDonalds?
According to Yasumasa Kioka of the National Police Agency, girls initiate the overwhelming majority of contacts. In a March 2003 presentation about the mobile phone prostitution phenomenon, Kioka listed a few of these text solicitations:
"Send me mail if you can meet me Sunday for 30,000 Yen (about $300.00)"
"Buy my virginity. I'm an innocent 15-year-old."
Men post messages too, such as:
"Looking for messages from schoolgirls short on pocket money."
How pervasive is the problem? Kioka pointed to figures from 2002, which indicated that 22 percent of female and 18.4 percent of male high school students had used dating sites. The good news is that 78 percent of the girls had not used them. But, of those that did, about 43 percent of the girls had actually met their dates, while almost 28 percent of the boys had a similar story. And the problem has grown since then.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Japan has also seen an unprecedented rise in the number of AIDs and HIV cases in recent years. Numerous surveys indicate that men and women in their teens and 20s do not use condoms. Although AIDs education has recently begun in elementary and middle schools, it does not emphasize safe sex, but rather human rights issues. Tragically, children do not get the support they need at home, either. Parents feel that the subject is too embarrassing to discuss. Yet, in a 2001 survey conducted by the Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare, almost 89 percent of teens wanted adults to teach them about the dangers of sex.
Along with the growth of child prostitution, there has been a commensurate sharp rise in other crimes, including child pornography and blackmail. In 2000 there were 102 child and female victims of enjo kosai - this so-called "compensated dating." In the year 2001 the number rose to 757, and the first half of 2002 alone saw 692 victims. Cellular phones were used in more than 95 percent of these crimes.
Curious, I posted a profile on one of these dating sites, calling myself "UShouldNoBetter." The site wouldn't let me say I was younger than 18. It also asked for my astrological sign, height, location in Japan, blood type (!), and real email address. This particular site uses an internal mail system so users don't see each other's real email addresses.
Within about twelve hours I received no less than six inquiries. Two guys just liked my user name, three asked to meet for coffee or drinks, while the last cut to the chase and wondered if I had time to have sex with him that very afternoon. "Cash OK?" he said.
Let's review: in Japan there are sexually active children running around on the streets until all hours of the night, with no accountability to their parents, with no safe sex information, and no condoms in their Chanel handbags. They are using Internet dating sites on their cell phones to find their clients in a ready audience of pedophiles and lecherous males waiting to take advantage of their ignorance and hand over fistfuls of yen.
Some people in Japan are beginning to think there's something wrong with that, and are developing strategic plans to address the issues. I have a few ideas, too.
First, there has to be a sea change in attitude on the part of the teens themselves. They see no problem with this form of making money, neither legal nor moral. Compensated dating is a quick means to an end. They are not aware of sexually transmitted diseases. They don't realize that they are being preyed upon by pedophiles. It will have to become cool to say "no," not only to compensated dating but also to the scourge of rampant consumerism underlying the situation. There is life beyond designer clothing and Japanese girls need to get a clue.
Second, parents and policymakers alike need to admit there is a problem. While some parents can truthfully claim ignorance about what their kids are doing online and offline, others are just in denial about it.
During my recent trip to Japan, I spoke with a radio talk show host. One of his shows featured several schoolgirls who described their cell phone dating experiences. The next day, the girls' school principal called the host, not to solicit his help in finding a solution, but to complain that he had brought the problem to light!
There needs to be a national sex education and Internet safety awareness campaign involving students, parents, educators, law enforcement, and government officials. But beyond that, Japanese society might stop to examine the wisdom of its parenting norms. Several parents told me that the way Japanese children are raised with benign neglect borders on child abuse. The concept of "it takes a village to raise a child" is unknown in Japan, since parenting is seen as a private activity. Protecting children must be a goal of society. Abuse of children must be punished as a crime against the state.
Further, research should be done to explore the possible relationship between the easy availability of pornographic anime illustrations depicting young girls (known as hentai) and the increase in sexual crimes against children.
Third, providers of cell phone service must offer filtered service that blocks at least the best-known dating sites, so that parents have that choice when buying phone service for their kids. There should also be tiers of service with monetary caps, so that teens can't go over the budgeted amount.
Last, law enforcement must be given the resources it needs to crack down on child abuse, child prostitution, and child pornography. If additional legislation is needed, policymakers need to work with child advocacy groups and legal experts to draft new laws.
Japan's parents, educators, and policymakers are starting to develop their own ways to end these shameful practices, before a generation of children is deprived of its innocence, and before the increase of AIDs and HIV cases cascades out of control.
Meanwhile, NTT DoCoMo, Japan's leading mobile communications operator, has its eyes on the United States. Over 40 million Japanese subscribers use DoCoMo's i-mode service to access their email and web sites, including dating sites. Now, in cooperation with AT&T Wireless, NTT DoCoMo has plans to offer their popular i-mode service in the US. Could problems similar to those in Japan follow the service here? What lessons can we learn from the Japanese experience with this technology? What happens when the pedophile is no longer just lurking in the park, but trying to lure your child from the cell phone inside her jacket pocket?Let us proceed carefully.
The Internet is beautiful and dangerous: enjoy; beware.
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