Banning Sex-Work Backfires

Hostess club sign, Roppongi

Hostess club sign, Roppongi (Photo credit: Susanna Quinn – Book Group Author)

Anonymous student post

In 2004 a newly required Trafficking in Persons Report was released by the U.S. Department of State. The report stated that Filipinas working as hostesses in Japanese clubs constituted the largest group of sex-trafficked persons, making up more than 10 percent of the total worldwide. In response to the deeply embarrassing report, the Japanese government decided to take quick action. New visa requirements and a more rigorous screening process were hurriedly enacted for those seeking the “entertainment visa,” which is how most sex-workers would classify themselves.

The result looked great on paper. The number of Filipina hostesses in Japan dropped 90%, from 82,741 in 2004 to 8,607 in 2006. But in reality sex-workers were still being trafficked into Japan, worse yet they now were rendered “illegal”. The sex workers coming into Japan were coming on their own volition for the most part. But now, they find themselves at the mercy of their employers without any laws to protect them. Since they are no longer legally in Japan, they have little ground to defend themselves from abusive or even dangerous employers. Even though Japan has improved itself in the eyes of the Trafficking in Persons Report, the short-sighted tactic they chose backfired making the matter worse for trafficked workers.

Since required workers are required to prove 2 years of training or internship as performing visual artists, Filipinas have resorted to coming in through illegal means. The new sex-workers are tightly coupled to their employers due to their illegal nature. The problem being they still needed jobs, and there was still a lucrative market to fill. No matter what laws the Japanese government imposes, there will always be loopholes that the illegal market finds around them, and in this case it was at the expense of the victims themselves.

It is no surprise that Japan was at the top of the list of Trafficking in Persons report. As long as the market in Japan for sex-workers exists, the problem with migrant sex-workers will coexist. The market for sex-work in Japan is disproportionately large for a country among the 5 highest in GDP.  If paying for sexual services had the taboo reputation it does in other world powers, the demand for sex-work in Japan wouldn’t be large enough to cause embarrassment. If the Japanese government could convince citizens that paying for sexual services is unpopular, they could do a much more effective job at mitigating the issue, and better yet, it wouldn’t be at the expense of the migrant sex-worker victims themselves. Additionally, new markets for the migrant workers would appear.

Criminalizing migrant sex workers does not aim for the core of the issue. Rather, a reduction of the market for sex-workers needs to take place in order to mitigate the demand. The sexual objectification of women is rampant among males in Japan. Gender inequality in Japan is partly to blame for the sexual objectification of women. The popularity of hostess bars and other payed-for sex work is deeply entrenched in masculine Japanese culture today.  If women were seen equally, the Japanese would begin to see what’s taboo, or even wrong with sex work. Societies view of women leaves migrant workers with little choice outside the uncomfortable opportunity for sex work. The government needs to work from the ground up with education of Japanese youth. The distinct, unbalanced roles of men and women need to be flattened out for society to understand the detriments of objectification of sex.

References

http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-10-13/what-i-learned-about-migrant-sex-workers-by-being-one-part-1-parrenas.html

Illicit Flirtation: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo, by Rhacel Salazar Parreñas. 2011. Stanford University Press.

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