Ryuichi Hisanaga’s article (14 June 2022, Asahi Shinbun) translated by Caroline Norma
A bill to prevent physical and mental harm against people filmed in pornography is expected pass in the current session of the Japanese Diet. The bill has been the subject of much debate, with opinion divided even among victim support groups and lawyers during deliberations.
The bill arises out of collective failure in Japan to tackle the problem of pornography. Pornography performers and their viewers exist in spades, but why are they rarely talked about, let alone make the news? The bill specifies a two-year period over which the law will be reviewed, but we can’t afford to put off for that long the issues it raises.
The harm that people filmed in pornography sustain is prefaced by poverty, sex crimes, and sexual violence. The bill, which was passed by a cabinet committee in just 14 days, includes provisions to link-up national and municipal services to address these problems. But some victims of sexual violence filmed in pornography have questioned the effectiveness of the bill, saying that it lacks specifics.
A woman who appeared in more than 10 pornographic films felt at the time that the industry was where she belonged. ‘I earned a million yen per film when I was a “porn star”. It felt like social approval.’ But whenever she would return home from filming she found herself going straight to sleep, and, perhaps because of stress, developing skin conditions. Her entry to the pornography industry was connected to suppressed memories of sexual abuse.
More than 40 years before, when she was five years old playing alone in the sandbox of a local park, a teenage boy in a school uniform called her over, saying, ‘There’s a cat over here.’ He led her to a secluded spot and took off her clothes. She doesn’t remember what happened next.
Then, when she was 18, she was sexually assaulted by a man she met at a casual job interview. She never disclosed that incident to anyone, believing that it had been her own fault for letting down her guard.
Then, when she was still a young 24-year-old company employee, she was sexually assaulted by a male client. She was having dinner with him at a restaurant when she blacked out. When she came to, she found herself on a hotel bed. He told her he’d slipped three pills into her beer. He then threatened her with photos he’d taken of her while she was passed out. She forced herself to work the next day because of an important deadline, and just pushed down her feelings to get through it.
Soon after, rumours spread throughout her workplace about what the client had done to her. She was forced to look for another job. Later, she married a man and had a child. Her 30s were spent child-rearing, and, after she turned 40, the firm she had started herself began to fall apart. Lacking funds, she began performing in pornography.
Among other scenes, she acted out the sexual abuse of her past. A director used as one film’s motif details of harmful sexual experiences she told him about. When the cameras were rolling, memories of her past came back to her. She was turning her painful experiences into money. The pornography was an extension of the sexual assaults she had suffered.
She has never viewed any of the films she appeared in, which are reminders of her past. She has confided in her husband about the past sexual assaults, but not the pornography. She noticed that poverty was an issue in the lives of the women she met in the industry. A woman told her that she entered the industry because she didn’t have enough money for tuition fees.
Various social problems preface the participation of people in pornography filming. Japan’s new law calls for measures to resolve these problems at their root, but our interviewee wonders whether it will be effective. ‘Some people enter the pornography and prostitution because the social safety net operated by Japan’s national and local governments does not cover them. The bill does not propose specific measures to change this reality.’
Dr Miyako Shirakawa, a psychiatrist and director of a clinic that treats trauma caused by sexual abuse, has seen patients who became involved in pornography and prostitution after being sexually abused or assaulted. ‘While some people enter the world of pornography and prostitution to overcome sexual violence and to enact proactive sexual experiences, others do it to hurt themselves,’ she says. ‘Some continue while feeling contempt for the men who seek them out sexually. For these women, engaging in sexual activity as a job is a reenactment of their victimization. The psychological damage is great when they suddenly realize that they are being sexually exploited.’
Shirakawa emphasizes that it is essential to connect those who are suffering in pornography with appropriate treatment and support. Regardless she believes that permitting sexual intercourse to be used a vehicle for money gives rise to human rights violations.
Members of the cross-party committee deliberating Japan’s bill debated how to define pornography and how to understand contracts involving sexual intercourse. One faction of performers and victims’ support groups believes that the bill will legalize the ‘sexual intercourse with unidentified individuals for money’ that is prohibited by Japan’s Prostitution Prevention Law.
Committee members did not reach consensus on the difficult problem of addressing pornography distribution, and an MP with the ruling party argued that regulating the prolific trade would be impossible. The bill defines pornographic products as filmed depiction of individuals involved in sex acts, but limits those sex acts to those not prohibited in Japan’s penal code or the Prostitution Prevention Law.
Parties involved in deliberations over the bill will draft a document expressing the view that the bill ‘neither condones nor legalizes contracts offending public order and morals, nor illegal acts’. They will move forward with the bill as soon as possible.
The issue as to how contracts involving sexual intercourse will be dealt with in legislation was included in the list of items scheduled for consideration in two years’ time when the law will be reviewed. The issue continues to be a sticking point in Japan.