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Worries anti-'JK biz' ordinance doesn't tackle core causes of teen girls' exploitation

A Metropolitan Police Department officer, left, asks for the age of a girl working for a JK business in Tokyo's Akihabara district in April 2017. (Mainichi)

On July 1 this year, a Tokyo metropolitan ordinance banning "JK businesses," or businesses providing men with the company of high school girls under the age of 18, will go into effect -- the first dedicated anti-JK business ordinance in Japan. The aim is to wipe out illicit sexual services, but some girls involved have told the Mainichi Shimbun that they "need the money" and worry that teens who get locked out of the JK business because they are underage could end up in prostitution.

    It is about 8 o'clock in a late April evening, and five girls on a back street in Tokyo's Ikebukuro district are passing out pamphlets to passing men. Some of the girls are wearing high school uniforms while others are dressed in regular clothes. Apparently, many of the girls in the JK business -- "JK" stands for "joshi kosei," or high school girl -- began wearing street clothes on the job a few years ago, when the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD) started cracking down on the services.

    When this reporter talks to one of the girls, a young man who looks like a night club host quickly draws close. He claims to be the manager of a JK business, and says that he had come over because "if a customer talks with one of the girls for a long time, they could be negotiating the 'hidden option.' I have to watch out for that."

    The "hidden option" is not part of the JK businesses' above-board services like massages or taking a walk together; it is used to mean illegal paid sexual services, including intercourse. According to a source close to law enforcement authorities, there have been cases of the businesses themselves explaining the "hidden option" to potential hires at the interview, and reaping in the subsequent proceeds.

    One 19-year-old girl who agrees to speak with the Mainichi says she got into the business when she was a second-year high school student because she needed money to go to a concert of her favorite band. The concert is long past, but she is still here, stranding in the street in school uniform from late afternoon on. When she's done her shift, she heads home on the last train. Despite her job and her heavy makeup, her face retains traces of teenaged innocence.

    She says that at first she was worried that men would try to do disgusting things to her, or that she would be rounded up by the police, but those fears faded as she worked. She also tells the Mainichi that she quit the last JK business she had worked at after the manager committed an indecent act against her.

    Because she is 19, the new ordinance will not apply to her, and she says the JK business "isn't as dangerous as 'enjo kosai' (schoolgirl prostitution), and you can make pretty good money." She also says that she has never provided a client with "hidden option" services, but a number of other girls she knows have and still do. Once the metro ordinance goes into effect, girls under 18 will be forbidden from working at JK businesses, and the 19-year-old says that some forced out of JK services "could end up in enjo kosai or selling their underwear."

    The metropolitan ordinance targets five specific types of JK service, including walks, massages, and sleeping side-by-side. It allows police officers to enter suspect premises, and violators may have their businesses suspended by the Tokyo Metropolitan Public Safety Commission. If businesses in breach of the ordinance do not reform, the operator can be sentenced to up to a year in prison or a fine of up to 1 million yen.

    "The ordinance strengthens monitoring of the JK businesses, but there need to be measures to crack down on the customers as well," says Yumeno Nito, the 27-year-old head of Colabo, an organization that supports underage female victims of sexual assault. "There are even some girls working (in JK businesses) to save money for school trips. It's important to open people's eyes to and care about the poverty behind this problem."

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