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'Could this be kidnapping!?': Japan police target SNS predators trying to lure minors

An Aichi Prefectural Police warning (bottom) against a tweet (top) seeking to lure minors into contacting a potential internet predator is seen in this screenshot from Twitter. (Photo partially modified) (Mainichi)

NAGOYA -- "Any junior or senior high students who have left home and are having trouble, please get in touch with me," "You can talk to me about your problems," and "Come stay at my place."

These are just some examples of tweets used by internet predators to lure out underage victims, and the cases keep piling up. However, in January the Aichi Prefectural Police launched Japan's first direct intervention program, replying directly to the tweets with the message "Could this be kidnapping!?" plus an explanation of potential jail time if one was found guilty of the crime.

Even if the minor consents, it is very likely that someone having an under-18 stay with them without the consent of a parent or guardian is committing a criminal office.

People who make these social media proposals to put up minors who have left home have come to be called "kami" (gods or spirits), and the post authors and the children looking to take them up on their offer apparently use #kamimachi (waiting for a god/spirit) and similar tags to find one another on Twitter. Research by Masanori Ikebe, an associate professor at Bunkyo University's Faculty of Information and Communications, showed that there is an average of 360 "kamimachi"-related tweets every day in Japan.

According to the National Police Agency, in 2018 there were 42 minors abducted across Japan after being contacted by the culprit on social media -- a 14-fold increase from five years previous.

In one November 2019 case, a 14-year-old Aichi Prefecture girl was abducted by a 43-year-old Tokyo man after she tweeted a request for someone to "lend me a room." The man had responded, "I only have one bed so we'd have to sleep together. Is that all right?" among other messages to lure her to him, and had her live at his home with him for four days.

The Tokyo man was quoted as telling police that he "didn't have her under my control." However, a senior investigator has warned that "even if the underage person says 'yes,' and you don't forcibly take them away, it is considered abduction if you have a minor stay with you (without their parent or guardian's permission)."

An Aichi police officer in charge of the issue told the Mainichi Shimbun, "There are a lot of cases of young people being sexually assaulted or otherwise harmed when they stay with strangers. The prefectural police are trying to prevent abductions by reducing the number of these sorts of social media invitations, by making people aware that police are monitoring what's going on."

(Japanese original by Hitomi Takai, Nagoya News Center)

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