translated by Caroline Norma
from Yuuki Kawaminami’s article in 47 News, 2 June 2022
A draft bill that aims to protect women from the harms of pornography filming is currently under debate in the Japanese Diet. The bill was drafted in response to the April 2022 lowering of Japan’s age of majority from 20 to 18 years. From April, people aged 18 and 19, no longer legal minors in Japan, became ineligible to have commercial contracts signed in their names dissolved upon request. In respect of pornography filming contracts, it was feared this lost entitlement would increase harms of sexual exploitation, given the vulnerability of young women to such contracts. These harms had not been much talked about in Japan, and so, when a draft bill emerged to protect victims, campaigners enthusiastically supported its quick progression. At the heart of the bill was the right for anyone, ‘regardless of age or sex’, to have a ‘filming contract extinguished for any reason within one year of the release of the product’.
But will the law really help victims? There are many women who continue to lead lives of hardship after agreeing to pornography filming in order to survive and escape situations of abuse, poverty, and sexual violence. They are made to think they freely chose to be in pornography, and many don’t perceive of the experience as harmful until years later. I spoke to two victims whose experiences of pornography are clearly linked to gaps in Japan’s social safety net.
A glamourous world
Maiko was living in eastern Japan ten years ago when she attended an interview at the office of a pornography recruitment agency. She was hired on the spot. She then had nude pictures taken for use in marketing materials, and was told she would be paid 1 million yen. Maiko was just relieved she’d have that month’s rent. Before then, she had run her own education business, but a competitor poached her employees, and her revenues nosedived. As a result, she was struggling to meet even rent expenses, and was desperate to get a job with a decent income. This is what led Maiko to enter ‘porn’ in an internet recruitment search. The experience persuaded her that pornography was a glamourous world filled with beautifully dressed celebrity actresses.
I was forced to re-enact my trauma
She was soon after taken to meet a pornography filming director, and was asked about prior sexual experiences. The first thing that sprung to mind was the sexual assault she had suffered soon after starting her first job after graduation. She had accepted a drink from a client at a work event, and next found herself in his hotel room. He then blackmailed her into a year-long relationship with him through nude photos taken that night. After telling the director about this experience, he decided to film her as a rape-drug victim brought to a hotel room.
Maiko did not want trauma from the sexual assault to rule her life, so she pushed forward. ‘I thought that, if I did the porn film, I would be able to look back on that experience as not a big deal. I thought I would be able to get over it.’ Maiko pushed forward with the plan for filming, thinking that re-enacting her past experience would help her overcome it. Over the subsequent 12 months she appeared in dozens of films. The demands made of Maiko became more extreme, and escalated to defecation scenes and 50-man rapes.
The terrifying prospect of being consumed
Maiko consumed alcohol before every pornography shoot. She needed to block out the harsh reality before she could go before the camera. Then she began to experience memory loss, and a doctor diagnosed brain atrophy. He commented that a person had to be under considerable stress to develop such a condition. The recruitment agency began pushing her towards prostitution and plastic surgery. ‘I realised at that point I had to get out, otherwise I was in real danger’. Maiko was physically and mentally exhausted. ‘I felt scared about the fact the films made of me would be consumed. I declared personal bankruptcy and got out of the industry, but I still suffer from hearing-related problems, which might be an aftereffect of the stress.’
The threat of footage remaining on the internet
‘I told no one, not even my family, about the pornography filming. But I’m haunted by the fact that the footage will be on the internet forever. I’ve searched many times for my films on the internet in order to make take-down requests, but I feel violently sick just reading the titles, so I never get very far with that work. When I was in pornography, I knew of other people in the films who had been sexually abused and suffered various abuses in childhood. So I have trouble taking seriously the claim people in pornography are there by choice.’
More than anyone, these people need of social support, but they are cast adrift in Japanese society. Many are forced to choose pornography filming to survive. If only the country had better medical and welfare services in place so they weren’t faced with such choices.
Entertainment districts become home for the abused and neglected
A few years ago, a middle-aged man approached Natsu outside a convenience store located in one of Japan’s entertainment districts. He told her he’d give her twenty thousand yen if he could have sex with her and film it. She was eighteen years old. From around age thirteen, Natsu’s father had been coming into her bedroom. She had been verbally abused by her mother any number of times. She disclosed the abuse to both school staff and a child welfare agency, but nobody helped her. She gradually lost the ability to reach out for help as she found herself continually betrayed by adults. Once she turned eighteen she was no longer eligible for support under Japan’s child welfare law. It struck her that laws and services created by adults were not available to help her. But, even with no identity documents or parents, in the entertainment district at least she was able to secure money and a mobile phone. She had already decided to make the entertainment district her home by the time the middle-aged man approached.
He showed her a photo on his mobile phone screen of a row of naked girls. He would pay her five thousand yen for a similar photo, and twenty thousand yen for a film of a man having sex with her. No condom would earn her an extra five thousand yen. Twenty thousand yen would pay for Natsu’s accommodation in an internet café booth for nearly ten nights. If she agreed, the man would book a hotel room.
The man told her that he would upload the video footage taken of her to the internet, and sell it online. He paid her on the condition she would sign a receipt that declared she would seek no further payment if money was later on made from the footage.
The law is only a first step
Two years later, Natsu joined one of the ‘flower demo’ public speak-out events held around Japan that call for an end to sexual violence. Women speaking at the event had similarly been filmed in pornography, and had suffered sexual violence. Listening to these women’s stories, she realized that she too had been a victim, that she had thought her experience was normal, but that it was in fact sexual exploitation.
She said that she felt happy to hear that a bill to help pornography filming victims was being debated in the parliament, because she thought that lawmakers had finally become aware of the problem in Japanese society of the sexual exploitation of 18- and 19-year-old teenagers. But she believes that the law will not be enough to protect teenagers from experiences faced at her age. ‘The law is just the first step. Everything depends on the use we make of it into the future.’
Children groomed under the age of 17
In Japan’s entertainment districts, Natsu continues to see an army of male recruiters approaching girls. She often hears of their sexual violence. She notes that, since the age of majority was lowered to eighteen years in April 2022, recruiters in the entertainment districts have begun to approach girls under the age of seventeen. They are well-practiced in the way they approach the girls. They offer them work, and first arrange jobs that are not pornography related. Then they groom the victims by being kind to them and offering wide-ranging support. Then, when the girls turn 18, they guide them into pornography. Mask-wearing during Covid-19 is used as an excuse to persuade victims their faces won’t be seen and nobody will recognise them.
She wholeheartedly hopes society will pay more attention to the children who are victims and cannot speak out, and offer them more help. Japan’s laws and social systems operate on the assumption these suffering children do not exist. For Natsu, this is hard to accept. ‘Before anything else, please listen to the voices of children. Adults cannot continue to betray us any more than they have already.’