My Journey into International Sisterhood: Cultural Exchange Report of FiLiA 2022

Natsuki Kato

Introduction

I started working as a caseworker for an organization that is dedicated to the survivors of pornography in 2019 and have been mainly involved in consultation work, international cooperation, lobbying, and consciousness-raising activities.

In May 2022, the Pornography Victims Relief and Harm Prevention Act was enacted, which legally recognized human rights violations in the production and distribution of pornographic films, and also brought a measure of urgency to the previously lawless field of pornography production and distribution. The law also recognizes human rights violations in the production and distribution of pornography.

At the end of 2022, the total number of clients at my organization exceeded 2,480. Most of the consultations can be divided into two main categories: 1) victims of ‘digital sexual violence’ such as pornography, revenge pornography, and child pornography, and 2) consultations from those who have been involved in the sex industry such as sex entertainment, pornography, and chat businesses. In pornography production, vaginal sexual intercourse, other sexual acts, and acts of humiliation are performed on the flesh and blood of women, known as ‘porn stars’, and are filmed. It is not rare for our caseworkers to hear from our clients that they have experienced pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, mental disorders, and genital damage as a result of appearing in pornographic films. However, the primary complaint of many of the victims is: “I want to delete the videos and images that have spread on the internet.” We are keen to meet this demand. In order to respond to this wish our team makes take-down requests on behalf of the clients as part of its consultation and support services. We also conduct other activities, such as night-time outreach in Shinjuku’s Kabukicho, a hub for sex trafficking, and lobbying and lecturing activities to educate society about the reality of the harm, and to encourage change towards a society free of sexual exploitation.

I was given the opportunity to go to the FiLiA international conference (FiLiA 2022), which is said to be the largest anti-sex trafficking and anti-pornography conference in Europe, with this background of activities, to put an end to sexual exploitation in Japan. Therefore, I landed in Cardiff, the host city, after a 36-hour journey, with the hope that at the conference I would learn about the resistance and movements of women around the world, mainly regarding the current situation of commercial sexual exploitation, such as pornography and prostitution, and at the same time convey information about the current situation of sexual exploitation in Japan.

FiLiA 2022 report: impressions on arrival at the conference and the opening ceremony

On the first day of FiLiA conference, I arrived at the venue to be greeted by a long queue of women leading to the reception desk. Many of the women lined up outside the venue were already chatting and enjoying themselves, and I could see the elation of the participants and felt a little blood rushing to my travel-weary head that I had finally arrived at this event. On the third floor, various groups and individuals who support the aims of FiLiA had booths where they introduced their activities, collected signatures, and sold goods. The third floor was crowded with booths of various organizations and individuals supporting the aims of FiLiA, introducing their activities, collecting signatures, selling goods, etc.

At the opening ceremony held in the main hall, women leading the movement in their countries took to the stage one after another to celebrate the event. Among the most memorable speeches were a video letter by an Afghan woman calling for solidarity, and a speech by a woman from Iran about the revolutionary women’s resistance movement taking place in Iran at this very moment. A large screen showed a group of high school girls fighting in the streets, burning hijabs, cutting their hair, dancing and chanting to show solidarity and a stance of thorough resistance, while the speaker, also on stage, said, “I will cut my hair like I have done many times.” She performed a hair-cutting performance to show solidarity and held up a flag with the symbol of the resistance movement on it. The emotional audience gave her a standing ovation from every corner of the room. The audience was united in saying that what we need is a revolution.

FiLiA 2022 report: on the anti-pornography movement

The session on the anti-pornography movement lasted about an hour and a half, with reports from Australia and France, and myself from Japan on the current situation of pornography damage and resistance movements in each country. The Australian organization, Collective Shout, reported on the results of their campaign to have pornography-inspired, misogynistic advertisements taken down, and the voices of women who had been forced to engage in the acts by men inspired by pornography such as choking and anal intercourse, among others. The report stated that sexual violence is induced by viewing pornography and that pornographic sexual violence has invaded daily life. Three speakers came from Osez Le Feminisme! in France, an organization that runs various campaigns related to women’s rights. They spoke enthusiastically about the legal battle they have started in France to end pornography, and urged everyone to spread the fight in their own countries. A lawyer in charge of an ongoing civil trial reported on a case in which a pornographer and a pornographic actor who had abused the women in their performances were criminally prosecuted, convicted, and sentenced on the basis of French rape law and other laws. The case was the result of a ground-breaking campaign won by the survivors and their supporters in France.

I gave a 10-minute presentation on the current situation of the pornography issue in Japan, based on our statistics and testimonies from our clients. One of the testimonies is as follows. A woman is stopped by a recruiter from a model agency who actually is a pimp in disguise on street and lured into his office, then the pimp and other men persistently convince the woman to sign a contract that binds her to appear in pornographic videos. Once the video is filmed, the pornography makers and distributors sell it on a large scale which the women were not informed of. Consequently, their friends or family members come across the videos and find her in them. After my speech, French activists said that the perpetrators’ methods were very similar to those in France. I myself knew that there were similarities between Western pornography victims and those in Japan, but in the course of exchanging information with them afterward, I was surprised to find out that the same details, such as the way pornographers manipulate evidence to their own advantage, were also found.

In addition to the anti-porn session, I was also given the opportunity to speak at a session on the theme of Global Sisterhood where I also introduced the activities and consultation work of my organization. In this session, I tried to convey that pornography victims are not only coerced to perform in pornography and subjected to actual sexual acts or abusive acts, but also it comes with a considerable consequence that people will be watching the filmed footage of their rape/abuse all the time. I emphasized it as a particularity of image-based sexual abuse which shall be separately discussed from prostitution. Many people approached me after my talk, and they all said in unison: ‘Such important work that you do. It must be tough. Thank you.” They were very concerned about the situation. Some said they were moved to tears when they heard the case studies, and some even offered to do something for our organization. A woman who said she is a survivor of sexual exploitation as a teenager told me that it was a great relief to know that there are people who are working for survivors like her. Every single encounter and conversation I had with each of them became an irreplaceable treasure for me.

Pornography is a global issue and international cooperation is very important in this field. I believe that through FiLiA, the foundation for a global movement has been laid, which is a major step forward in the campaign to eradicate pornography. As of 14 December, when this report is being prepared, we have already been able to cooperate with the French organization by sending them a collection of Japanese case studies that they can use to raise awareness in the French media. The topic of pornography tends to be taboo and there is usually no forum for discussion. Especially in a society like Japan, where pornography is a major industry and consumption of pornography is widely normalized, it is difficult to show a critical stance towards pornography. For those of us who live in such a world, FiLiA conference was a safe space where we could discuss pornography from a critical standpoint and express our opinions freely. During the Q&A at the end of the session, the women in the audience were continually sharing their personal stories and comments, so much so that time ran out. The session was so well attended that there wasn’t enough time for more questions and answers.

FiLiA 2022 report: on prostitution

Throughout the FiLiA conference, prostitution was one of the topics that had many sessions. I attended two talks on prostitution and an anti-prostitution activist lunch meeting, both as a participant. Many of the speakers and participants introduced themselves as survivors of prostitution in an upfront way, and I listened to their talks while being impression by their resilience as it was clear that they are involved with anti-prostitution activism based on their lived experience in it. One of the most memorable speeches for me was given by a woman who had been involved in sex trafficking for 20 years in New Zealand, where prostitution is fully decriminalised. She said that in decriminalised countries like NZ, selling sex is talked about as if it is a form of female empowerment and that she had seen job recruiting advertisements in newspapers since her early teens as if it was no different from any other job. She said that during the time she was in the sex trade, she had to take up to eight customers a day. She had genital lacerations and even swelling due to intercourse. And, of course, there was no sick pay or maternity leave, no freedom to choose her buyer or control her own selling price. She was not guaranteed protection as labor, contradictorily to what ‘sex work’ theorists say. Her speech reminded me once again that even in countries where prostitution has been decriminalised, prostitution can never be a safe ‘profession’.

I also learned a lot from the presentation given by Women First, which Ali Morris, the other participant in this exchange program, was involved in. What struck me most powerfully about their talk were the following words of one of the survivor women, which were particularly poignant. ‘We need to say to them, clearly say to the women in prostitution “Do you want to get out? If you want help to get out, we can help you.” I myself talk to women in prostitution and pornography in my consultation work. When these women do not express their desire to leave prostitution/pornography, I feel hesitant to ask the question which gets to the heart of the problem. The reason for this is that I am cautious because I fear that if I appear to be denying the reality in which these women are living now, they may close their minds against me, rather than open up to me. However, the women on the panel said, “All of the survivors say that they wish they had been asked that question. A lot of people seem to think that when you work with women in prostitution you shouldn’t mention the sexual violence they suffer because they are worried that you might aggravate their wounds, etc., but I would rather they ask because women in prostitution always know deep down that what they are being subjected to is abuse/violence.”

Throughout the entire prostitution session, I gained a lot of very important perspectives, especially from the survivors such as the following words; ‘Whether it is her choice or not, prostitution harms women.’, when a third party says to prostituted women “It is your own choice to be in prostitution”, it can be very effective to silence them. Also, the aforementioned question, “Do you want to get out of prostitution?” and the importance of asking it. I will not forget these aspects I learned, and I will also keep thinking about the meaning of them myself.

Sisterhood at FiLiA 2022

The things I learned from the sessions and discussions are undoubtedly important, but the inspiration I have got from casual conversations with the women I met throughout FiLiA and from being exposed to their way of life was just as incredible. As a lone participant from Japan, I was feeling a bit anxious on the evening of the first day because I hadn’t made many friends, but there was a woman who noticed me and invited me to her circle when I wandered into a lounge area. She was a Brazilian woman who lives in France. She took me into her group made up of survivors from a French organization called CAPP, participants from Brazil, and others. We started introducing each other’s activities and shared thoughts on the situations in each country. As we were enjoying the casual talk the party started on the dance floor, so we went dancing with a couple of drinks. It was amazing to just let go of ourselves and indulge in the moment of joy in the safe environment FiLiA created, and our circle grew bigger and bigger over nights. The anxiety and exhaustion from the long trip were completely gone by the end. The party being held on the first day helped me feel a lot more relaxed and comfortable with everyone at FiLiA for the next two days. Since day two, I was smiling more and making more eye contact with people around me because I felt a deep sense of security. Knowing that the women gathered here, even though they come from different cultural backgrounds, share the same pain of sexism, and are working on the same issues with the same aspirations, gave me so much courage that these women exist all over the world and are fighting for a better future. It made me feel that no matter how ‘radical’ my belief might be perceived in my own sphere of life or community, I will stand tall and demand the human rights we deserve.

My report to the fellow activists and their reception of it

At the informal meeting where I reported on my experiences in Cardiff to my fellow activists, about 10 members attended and several others watched a video recording of the briefing. Everyone commented on what they found impressive, and their comments helped me further my own learning. One member commented on the fun and festive atmosphere of FiLiA conference, saying that she would like to create such an image of the organization and events which attracts people while another member who leads the Kabukicho outreach commented that it made her think a lot about the way to work with women who are in the sex trade. Many members said they would like to create a place like FiLiA conference where women and activists can come together to share experiences and learn from each other. Japan is a country that has a history of enslaving women for men’s sexual gratification ( aka ‘comfort women’) during the colonial wars, and in modern times, Japan is known for its huge production/export of pornography. If you walk around any major city in Japan, you’ll find brothels and massage parlors that many women from neighboring countries are brought to work in. It is a hub of sexual exploitation. It is very important for us Japanese activists to take initiative in this fight against sexual exploitation. We all agreed that it will be great to host such an event as FiLiA conference and invite women from all over the world, especially from Asia, to come to Japan.

Ali’s visit to Japan

On November 8th, 2022, the first day of Ms. Ali Morris’s visit to Japan, we welcomed her at our office in Tokyo. Ali explained the toolkit which Women First had just launched, and we were very impressed with the practicability and sophistication of the toolkit. We told her that we would love to hear about the progress and results of disseminating the toolkit and we promised to keep in touch for the future corporation. We explain to Ali the ‘host clubs’ and how they function as an efficient sex trafficking mediation system, which is probably unique to Japan in terms of domestic sex trafficking. Many of the young women and girls aged 18 and 19 who come to our organization for consultation are involved with ‘host clubs’ which are lounge-style bars designed for female customers to enjoy the romantic company of “host boys” in a party-like atmosphere. Many of the girls enter the sex trade in Japan to earn money so they can support their favorite “host boys” by ordering over-priced alcohol menu which lifts up the host boy’s rank higher at the host club. The strategy that host boys use to encourage girls to voluntarily spend money is that host boys convince the girls to support them to become the ‘number one’ earner in the host club in order to have a future where they can live happily together or get married. As a result of this manipulation, girls order the over-priced alcohol menu like a champagne tower at the host club which throws them into debt. Then the host boy induces the girls into the sex industry to pay off the debt or keep supporting the boys financially.

We showed Ali the videos of actual host club parties. She appeared to be in shock to see the reality that male hosts are part of institutionalized pimping at such a young age. We proceed to discuss as we compare the circumstances in the UK and Japan in different aspects such as substance misuse in sexual exploitation and the level of normalization in men’s consumption of pornography etc.

Ali said that there is currently no organization in the UK dedicated specifically to the victims of pornography while they are organizations like Women First which is dedicated to all forms of survivors of the sex trade. I became aware of the significance of our organization’s work in the global context in this regard. I suppose that it is an extremely rare organization that specializes in pornography and what we call digital sexual violence, and has accumulated data and knowledge through its tremendously consistent activities in requesting the take-down of sexual images online. I think compiling this report helped me realize this point once again. I would like to share the point repeatedly with my fellow activists in Japan and propose the sharing and exchange of data and information with other organizations around the world.

On November 12th, Ali’s last day in Japan, I met with her again. A meeting with her was held in a rented conference room in Tokyo, where women’s rights activists gathered online and offline. The program started off with Ali’s presentation on FiLiA’s toolkit then I gave a briefing presentation on my participation in FiLiA. The discussion we had during the Q&A time was very interesting. Our organization takes the position that child pornography in anime and comics, which depicts sexual abuse of children needs to be regulated. In discussions on the pros and cons of child pornography, there are always forces in Japan that argue for ‘freedom of expression’, and they call feminists who hold opinions like ours ‘infringing on the right to freedom of expression’. One of the participants asked Ali if this is a common argument in the UK. She answered, ‘I have never heard of such arguments in the UK.” It was very surprising for us. She continued, “Of course, there are opponents of regulation, but what they say is that there is no harm on the real children since it is just a cartoon”. According to Ali, arguing back based on one’s “freedom of speech” in this discussion is a “very American way”.

Conclusion

Participation in FiLiA conference has provided me with many powerful tools to advance our anti-pornography movement. As I have mentioned, I have been able to build and reinforced a global network of anti-pornography activism. We will keep each other updated on the actions in our countries and learn how to fight against the huge pornography industry from each other. It also is helpful to have a partnership with organizations across the world in developing strategies and taking action together to tackle the cases of image-based sexual abuse in which private images are uploaded to the internet via foreign servers, to which most of our clients’ cases apply. Having more numbers of organizations from a variety of countries as our partners gives us a stronger network to dismantle each case and international cooperation is essential for our organization. I am also convinced that the data and knowledge accumulated by our teams will be useful for individuals and organizations that are developing anti-pornography campaigns around the world. I would like to encourage them to actively promote and make use of such strengths of their own in future collaborations.

It is not at all true to say that you need to have professional experience and knowledge to get involved in the anti-porn campaign. The participants who filled the room for the session on pornography raised their hands one after the other to share their own experiences and many episodes related to pornography. Where safety is ensured, these women want to talk. When women gather and talk about their experiences, that is where a revolution starts. This is also what the organizers of FiLiA repeated during the event, and what the organization is for; ‘We create a space for women to share. Women want to meet and share. FiLiA’s role is to create the place.” This sounds simple, but I still think it is the heart of feminism and the sisterhood.

The three days I spent at FiLiA conference were like a dream-come-true for me. Not only because I learned so much and had the opportunity to understand women’s rights issues better, but above all because I was able to meet like-minded women from all over the world in a safe space with freedom of speech, share our thoughts and experiences, and build relationships that have empowered each other ever since. This proves that FiLiA had done its job beautifully. The organizers of FiLiA also said ‘When women come together in person and talk, magic happens.’ I sure did feel like I was in a dream during FiLiA, and the spell FiLiA put on me didn’t seem to go away after I returned home. For the next week, I spent every hour of the day reminiscing about the moments and conversations with the women at FiLiA, trying to remember all of the inspiration by putting them into words and writing them down. Yet I still cannot fully express the magic that FiLiA 2022 has cast on me. I am certain that something has awakened and developed inside of me, and I feel as if I am a completely different person before and after FiLiA 2022. Without this exchange program, I would not have had this incredible experience. I would like to express my sincere gratitude to the Sasagawa Foundation for funding this program. I would also like to promise that I will definitely utilize the cooperation with women around the world and the inspiration I have received through this program in my future activities and reflect it in my own way of life. I promise to make use of this experience to build a better society in which the human rights of women and girls in Japan and around the world are protected. 15 December 2022

投稿者: appjp

ポルノ・買春問題研究会(APP研)の国際情報サイトの作成と更新を担当しています。

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