The Consequences of Being a Migrant Hostess in Japan

English: Host and hostess clubs in Ginza (Plac...

English: Host and hostess clubs in Ginza (Place – Ginza-7-Chōme) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Luke Kariniemi

In class we have been speaking about the advantages and disadvantages of Filipino women migrating to Japan and working there as “hostesses”, the experiences they have, and how Japan as a country deals with the perceived image these hostesses create.

Many Filipino women migrant to Japan to work as a hostess for a variety of reasons. Mainly, they migrate for the large increase in wages compared to what they could receive in their home country. They are paid to entertain male clients, pouring their drinks, offering flirtatious comments, singing karaoke and sometimes dancing. Many of the women enjoy doing this work and often see themselves as professional singers or dancers. The higher wages they receive from doing this can be sent back home to help support their families better than if they had stayed working in their domestic country.

However, there are many downsides to working as a hostess too. As Rhacel Salazar Parreñas says in her book Illicit Flirtations, “sexual harassment is the norm in hostess work”. Hostesses have to bear the harassment for however long the client has paid for. In many cases, this can be seen as male superiority. Men basically pay hostesses to compliment them and to have the ability to choose which girl they want, dismissing the less attractive ones. Essentially, ‘fluffing’ up the men’s ego. This can be soul-destroying for women and many of them would not be able to put up with being so insulted, let alone sexually harassed.

All of these problems can escalate very quickly when it comes to the world of migrant hostesses. Usually, a Filipino women with an ‘entertainer’ visa gets the job as a hostess through a ‘middleman broker’—similar to hiring agencies in western countries, apart from the fact that once they get a job for the woman in a specific club, the woman then ‘owes’ them a debt for doing so. This stops them from quitting their job before the contract with the middleman expires, because they will often be penalised if they do so. This can lead to them doing jobs that they do not want to perform, often including sexual acts, because they cannot quit. Hostesses become vulnerable to human rights violations because they end up depending on their sponsoring employers.

When the U.S. State Department labelled around 80,000 Filipina hostesses as “trafficked persons” in 2004, thinking that they were suffering forced prostitution, the Japanese government imposed new restrictions on the entertainer visa, believing that it would help the women be rid of the ‘hostess’ title. Although it did just that, lowering the number of Filipina hostesses in Japan by 90%, it may not have been for the best after all. When all of these women were sent back to their home country, they also went back to a much lower wage and therefore couldn’t care for their family as they could when working in Japan as a hostess. For a lot of them, their skill sets would only include things that the hostess job involved, and so there’s a chance they would end up going into prostitution which would have been a lot rougher in impoverished countries like the Philippines. Altogether, Japan managed to get rid of the image that other countries perceived it to be concerning the so called “trafficked persons”. Nevertheless, when in fact these women were not being illegally trafficked into Japan, but going through their own free will, the consequences may not be that great after all.

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Human trafficking’s profit, risk, and victims

Red Light district in Amsterdam: Dark shadows cast by global flesh trade. (Copyright © 1996-2000 Bruno J. Navarro/Fotophile.com)

Anonymous student post

Human trafficking entails recruiting, transporting and harbouring of a person through “coercion, abduction, fraud, deception, abuse of power, as well as abuse of vulnerability of women” (Clark 2003). It is a low risk, high reward endeavor for those who organize it. Women in impoverished countries have limited options for supporting themselves and their families, leading them to look for work outside of their country of origin, making them vulnerable to a trafficker’s false promises of high-paying jobs as a waitress or entertainer. Traffickers, exploiting the economic need, often confiscate the victims’ travel documents during or after transport or physically imprison them in brothels, houses, or bind them by dept. In some cases the women choose to subject themselves to the traffickers knowing the danger, as they might end doing the same work at home for lower pay.

People are trafficked into the sex industry not to satisfy the demands of the traffickers, but that of the purchasers. Hence, human trafficking is a lucrative market for all persons involved, except for the women, and/or children involved. Even if it can be argued that some women decide by themselves to subject themselves to traffickers, the majority of women are not aware of what kind of labor that is expected by them when arriving at another country. Moreover, traffickers are extremely good in manipulating the truth and take advantage of the poor living conditions the women have in their country of origin. Therefore, it can be stated that it is a chain of people who take advantage of  vulnerable women in mainly impoverished countries to satisfy their demands. Moreover, in some countries it is a extremely profitable market, and therefore government in impoverished countries take rather small action towards the traffickers. One reason is that the sex industry can be linked to tourism. It can be argued that Asian countries have a different view on women than for example, the western culture, and therefore become an popular destination for people who not originates from the Asian culture. It can be difficult for government to stop trafficking and sexual industry when there is a growth in the tourist sector, and especially since it may require a lot of assets to track down and get evidence against traffickers.

Trafficking humans is a cross border movement where several actors are involved. It is not only humans that are smuggled  between borders, it is a complex net where cash flow and illegal documents cross borders around the world. Even if there are several International laws against human trafficking it is as mentioned extremely difficult to track down the trafficker. Moreover, it is also difficult to find women, and / or children that are willing to testify against the smugglers, since they are afraid that their families will be either hurt by the traffickers, or feeling ashamed by their daughter’s occupation. It is also very difficult for the vulnerable women to escape their situation since they are being illegal immigrants in the hosting country, and some countries treat illegal immigrants in a rather harsh way, and the fear of police and immigration officers forces the women to maintain in the hands of traffickers, sex buyers and other persons involved in the profit chain.

Reference

Clark, Michele A. 2003. “Human Trafficking Casts Shadow on Globalization.” YaleGlobal, April 23. http://yaleglobal.yale.edu/content/human-trafficking-casts-shadow-globalization

Progress and Subjugation

Trafficking of women, children and men

Trafficking of women, children and men (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Michael McDonnell

The introduction to the 2008 Trafficking in Persons Report notes, “The common denominator of trafficking scenarios is the use of force, fraud, or coercion to exploit a person for profit. A victim can be subjected to labour exploitation, sexual exploitation, or both”. In Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo, Rhacel Parreñas explains the identification of the majority of Filipino women working as hostesses in Japan as victims of trafficking, and how the clampdown in visa sponsorship that resulted has in fact been detrimental to their freedom overall. According to Parreñas, the women she encountered who came to Japan to work, came of their own free will and many already knew what to expect from having spoken to women who have previously made the journey. They enter Japan with legitimate entertainer visas and employers willing to sponsor them.

She states that rather it is the restrictive conditions of these visas that make women more susceptible to forced labour and exploitation. For example, in order to be granted a permanent spouses visa, the applicant has to remain married to a Japanese citizen for five years creating a situation where the wife is indebted to the husband. If an employer asks a worker to do a job she is not comfortable with for whatever reason she cannot leave the job without becoming an undocumented illegal worker, becoming reliant on an employer to provide both work and protection from being found out. These unbalanced relationships are, according to Parreñas, what increase the likelihood of forced labour and abuse, not the position as a Hostess itself.

This exploitation of vulnerable workers exists all around the globe. In Bangladesh, workers, more than 85% of whom are female, in clothing factories many making goods on behalf of international sportswear companies are still paid below the minimum wage, are forced to work overtime, and are sometimes verbally and physically abused. Attempts to protest or strike are met with police brutality. Their dependence on this money to support their families prevents them from leaving.

HK Victoria Park Philipino Migrant Workers

Photo credit: Wikipedia

The anti-poverty charity War on Want, who are involved in ending the exploitation of Bangladeshi workers in the clothing industry, advise against boycotts of the goods produced in these factories as it could lead to job losses for the people they are trying to protect. War on Want are instead pushing for a change in the practices of these sportswear companies and the guarantee of improved pay and conditions for the workers.

The labeling of migrant workers from the Philippines as victims of trafficking by TIP led to a 90% drop in women being sponsored to work in the hostess industry further reducing their options for advancement. The answer to this problem is not to crack down on the employment of foreign workers in this industry but, much like in the case of the Bangladesh, to improve the conditions for the workers. By giving more control to the women working in the hostess industry to choose their own employers and to change jobs if they want the likelihood of exploitation would be greatly reduced.

References

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

War on Want. (2012). Race to the Bottom. Available: http://www.waronwant.org/attachments/Race%20to%20the%20Bottom.pdf

Discrimination causes self-discrimination and vice-versa

Cover of "Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, a...

Cover via Amazon

Anonymous student post

It is bad sign to start with triteness, but for my defense I can say that sometimes we need to remind ourselves simple truths which we always tend to forget. So here is a well-known fact: gender as opposed to sex is created by people, not nature. We all understand that since it follows from definition of word ‘gender’ as ‘socio-cultural sex’, but we somehow forget that if gender exists in people’s mind, not in real world, then it is people who put sense in this concept. But here comes great paradox of our society: we talk about gender inequality as a problem that must be solved, but still wear newborn baby, who is too young to even say word “gender”, in pink if it is girl and in blue if it is boy. We start with clothes while baby don’t understand anything about its sex yet, and continue cultivate gender with imposing socio-cultural role on grown-up child. From now on girl will wear uncomfortable dress and play with doll and boy will climb trees in his pants. And this is the very beginning of discrimination.

Such paradox is common occurrence in patriarchal (or “masculine”) societies, which Japan is related to. In such societies gender roles are clearly distinct as well as characteristics that women and men are supposed to have. Patriarchal culture implies that woman is object of men’s desire, which he admires, that is why the main thing that matters about this “object” is its appearance. But I could not help but wonder: isn’t it women, who maintain this status of themselves? Isn’t it women who dress their daughters in pink and say to them that the most important is to find a good husband?

This thought was getting stronger while I was reading the articles “The care crisis in the Philippines” and “Global women”. Migrant mothers challenge the dominant gender ideology, which holds that a woman’s rightful place is in the home, but in fact these mothers migrate to do in other houses abroad that very work they are supposed to do in their own house. “Migrant mothers, who work as nannies carry for other people’s children while being unable to tend their own.” In masculine society underpaid and not prestigious work designed for women, in short, woman is supposed to be engaged in the same work that she does at home – that is service sector. And immigrant women, engaged in service sector, support masculine society’s view on woman, even though they want to earn more money and become independent. That is what I call self-discrimination. And the best example of this self-discrimination is the fact that middle-class families come to depend on migrants from poorer regions to provide child care and homemaking. It means that women from the First World who almost achieved gender equality support gender inequality for women from poorer regions!

Japan provides best examples of women’s self-discrimination. Being patriarchal society, it considers woman as an object, and that’s why it provides great variety of places where women should entertain men. There are not only Hostess Clubs, but also so-called キャバクラ “Kyabakura” (cabaret-club), スナックバー “Snack Bars”and メイドカフェー “Maid Café”. It is obviously represents Japanese society’s view on woman. Yes, not Japanese men’s view but society’s view, because quick look at modern situation is enough to understand that women don’t oppose this view at all. They try very hard to be かわいい “kawaii” (cute), and they even created new category of Japanese TV show – “obaka-chara” (stupid character), where women acts pretending to be stupid and be laughed at – and, therefore, to be “kawaii”. Where is demand, there is supply, in other words, discrimination causes self-discrimination, and self-discrimination supports discrimination. Is there any exit from this vicious circle?

References

Rhacel Salazar Parreñas, “The Care Crisis in Philippines: Children and Transnational Families in the New Global Economy,” pp. 39-54, in Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild. (New York Metropolitan, 2003).

“Introduction” by Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild, Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy, Barbara Ehrenreich and Arlie Russell Hochschild. (New York Metropolitan, 2003).

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.

How Legal is a Hostess Bar?

English: Signage for hostess bars in Kabukicho...

English: Signage for hostess bars in Kabukicho, Tokyo. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

by Miranda Solly

The issue of women from the Philippines working in Japanese hostess bars, as described in research by Rhacel Parreñas, was thought-provoking for me. One point I would like to address in particular is the stereotype of these women. There is an apparently widely held expectation that the women working in a hostess bar would be illegal immigrants, as can be seen in videos of Japanese police raiding hostess bars. This is also a common belief surrounding places like lap dancing bars in the UK (my native country). As was demonstrated by those videos, very few of the Filipino women were actually in Japan illegally. Why does such a misunderstanding about this kind of work exist?

While the past 50 years or so have seen a huge change across the world in the way race, gender, and sexuality are perceived, I don’t think it’s controversial to say that we’ve not managed to reach equality yet. In a way, hostess bars in Japan are a perfect example of this. First of all, consider gender and sexuality. If a group of men go to a hostess bar, it is seen as a good night out. If a woman works at one, however, there are suppositions made about her morality, her economic position, and her vulnerability. Why is it socially acceptable to use a service, but not to provide it?

Moreover, the women who come to Japan from the Philippines to work in hostess bars are assumed to be illegal, and most probably trafficked to Japan against their will. As Parreñas’ research demonstrated, for the majority neither of these is true. Often, women find that they can earn much more as a hostess than other jobs, so the work makes economic sense. This reason is probably no different to the reason why Japanese women work in hostess bars. Why does a female immigrant’s nationality play such a large role in the way she is perceived at her job?

As a foreign student in Japan, I can apply for a work permit and am free to take up a job such as teaching English, as long as it does not interfere with my studies. But that work permit does not allow me to work in a hostess bar. On the other hand, the entertainment visa that allows you to work in a hostess bar is specifically targeted at women from the Philippines. This distinction is made because of our different goals in entering Japan. But why should a part-time job at a hostess bar, talking in Japanese with clients, distract me from my studies more than a part-time job at an English school, speaking English with clients? I would have thought that the former would actually give me more of a chance to improve my Japanese. However, hostess bars apparently sit uncomfortably close to immorality for Japanese lawmakers. They appear to be tied up with all kinds of crime; mafia, trafficking, prostitution. While it is not actually prostitution, an unsuspecting foreign student would no doubt be in serious danger if allowed into such an environment. But if the work is so dangerous, why are women on the entertainment visa allowed to work there? In fairness, the Japanese government did also attempt to protect female immigrants from the Philippines from these threats, by changing the entertainment visa laws. However, it was shown that this actually forced some of the more vulnerable women into prostitution in other countries.

I’d like to suggest that instead of treating hostess bars as more illegal than they are, we do the opposite. They may offend a conservative person’s sensibilities, but the sex industry exists in one form or another in most parts of the world, and has done so for a very long time. As can be seen with hostesses from the Philippines, if conservative attitudes discourage native women from this kind of work, immigrants often fill the jobs; this also appears to be true in the UK. Looking at history you can see that making sex work illegal does not make it go away, and while some people attribute it to our endemic gender imbalance, that is unlikely to be rectified any time soon. In any case, hostess work is as emotionally taxing as, say, a flight attendant’s job, but no-one views foreign flight attendants with the same mistrust. Hostess work is also much less open to abuse than prostitution. By allowing hostess bars to exist on the same level as mainstream society, it would be easier to police visas and abuse, and an open discourse might help to dispel some of the myths surrounding women who immigrate to work there.

Penalizing the Sex Worker or the Customer: French Policies on Prostitution

Prostitution Réprimée Santé Sacrifiée

Prostitution Réprimée Santé Sacrifiée (Photo credit: William Hamon (aka Ewns))

Anonymous student post

We studied in class the migrations and their influence on sexual work. This phenomenon, as complex as important, is a subject of debate and polemic within the political class. Concerning a badly known, and sometimes taboo, subject; prostitution remains a difficult domain to supervise effectively by the law. Connected to this subject, a law is going to be voted in 5 days in France. This draft law is an innovative initiative because it proposes the penalization of the customers instead of the prostitutes. This blog post will present the various opinions emitted on this subject, in a sociological aim towards the sexual workers.

At the origin of this project, there is an alarming report on the state of the prostitution in France. On 40,000 sex workers acting in France, 90% would be foreigners, victims of the sexual exploitation. The Minister of Women’s Rights, Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, particularly in favour of this law, has for ambition to remove the prostitution from France. To penalize the customers, with 6 months of detention and 7500 euros of fine, appears as a way to destroy the source of the prostitution: the demand. These arguments arise from the idea that the prostitution is very rarely chosen and generally undergone. Adopting a law like this would respect the principles of the Republic. Also it could destroy the financing of the mafias and so on destroy the traffic.

On the side of the opponents of this project, the arguments are not either lacking. “STRASS”, France’s sex workers union, is one of the main opponent. For them, such a law translates a moralistic ideology of the politicians. The abolition of prostitution, for them, seems to be an unattainable goal, furthermore such a law would damage above all the prostitutes. To penalize the customers would create an increase of the violence. Instead of trying to destroy mafia networks, such a law would only serve to stigmatize more the sexual workers. In the name of paternalists and puritans ideals, the politicians would prefer to attack the smoke rather than the fire. The failure of this kind of laws in Sweden and in Norway lets think the opponents that a regulation approach must be studied, rather that a stigmatizing one.

It is clear that both opposed camps have the same aim and objective: the abolition of the sexual slavery. Nevertheless, the evoked ways are subject to the controversy. In my humble opinion, the penalization of the customers will not destroy prostitution. Although I recognize moral virtues in this law, it is only disputing the expression of the problem and not its source. The foreign prostitutes would be the first victims of such a system. It is necessary to bring institutions (medical, judicial, economic) to them rather than to try to hide them. To penalize the customer would only “blur” the system, in the style of hostess bars in Japan. Try to legally distinguish deliberate prostitution from forced prostitution would be a first stage in the destruction of maffioso networks. Unfortunately trying to supervise legally the activities connected to human vices appears in our societies as a form of laxness. Seeing the reality such as it is would allow the improvement of our legal system, however it includes also to admit that prostitution cannot disappear.

References

Geert de Clercq, Reuters, “French debate: Punish prostitutes or their customers?

Tom Craig, Demotix, “French Prostitutes protest Law Penalizing Clients

Hanna Kozlowska, Foreign Policy Blog, “Frenchmen to government: ‘Don’t touch our whores!'”

Massoud Hayoun, Al Jazeera, “French sex workers demand open dialogue on proposal to fine clients

Elisabeth Lévy, Le Monde, “Les gardes roses du nouveau puritanisme

Tackling human trafficking, the modern form of slavery

Trafficking of women, children and men

by Anastasia Maillot

As I read several parts from Rhacel Parreñas’ Illicit Flirtations: Labor, Migration and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo she introduced me to a rather terrifying fact. Philippine women migrating to Japan in search of hostess jobs are the most trafficked population in the world, working in conditions where their passports are taken and where they have no other option but to continue working in what I would call modern slavery or servitude with a nonexistent salary. As a response to the growing issues concerning Philippine migrants, the Japanese government has imposed stricter rules to entertainment visas, which has in turn barred the route for legal ways into the country and caused illegal entry through middlemen to flourish. Although Parrenãs brings out the positive in hostess work by explaining that few of the Philippine women feel like victims but instead see it as a way to gather money for their future or their families back home, I think there is a huge problem here, something that seems almost ignored; these women live in servitude, a form of modern slavery. This is not a job they do out of good will but because they have no choice.

Wasn’t slavery supposed to be over since the civil war? After reading Parreñas, I had to investigate and see it for myself. The truth is, there are more people living in slavery today than ever before. The site Free The Slaves estimates that at least 27 million people live in slavery, half of them being children. Moreover, I was shocked even further to find out from Madeleine Albright, former US Secretary of State, that human trafficking more specifically is the fastest growing criminal enterprise in the world. This means that today, what crosses our borders most often are not drugs or weapons, but human beings treated as mindless objects and sold into servitude. So, no, slavery is not over and it would be a mistake to say that it does not exist in the Global North, because it does. There seems to be this misconception that whatever atrocities happen in the Global South do not happen in “our countries”. We fail to understand that this phenomenon is everywhere around us, in factories, mines, brothels, farms, restaurants and construction sites. We simply close our eyes from the fact that we carry clothing made with extremely cheap labor and eat food from farmers that are deliberately exploited. Sometimes we even convince ourselves that anyone working as a stripper or as a hostess is most likely doing it because they chose to do so and want to.

Parreñas does say that people get involved into this because of the need for money. The Philippines is a good example as a country, because of its economic dependence on these women who leave their country in search for a better income either as hostesses or nannies. But this also puts these women in very fragile positions in host countries, as some of them might be ready to do anything to feed their family back home. This sense of necessity exists everywhere. There have even been cases in the US where parents have sold their children into slavery, although it remains more marginal than in the Global South. Still, we participate into this process by providing the demand to those middlemen, who then go out to look for these women, children or even men. We need to stop ignoring the alarming fact that more and more people are becoming victims due to economic necessities and do something about it, as trafficking and thus slavery is an issue that affects every nation in the world.

Governments have generally been slow or reluctant to do anything about trafficking, preferring to cover the issue with a band aid and hoping that things will eventually get better. Now, I understand the difficulty of tracking down the middlemen who sell these victims, not to mention the buyers or the customers. However, I came across a reading, Not For Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It, by David Batstone, that introduced me to several different cases of slavery and trafficking in different countries and how the problem was successfully dealt with. Most often people have witnessed face to face the difficulties of the victims, felt compassionate and started searching for alternatives. In Thailand for example, a woman set up a jewelry business in which she recruited women from brothels, giving them a proper job, opportunities and restored their self-confidence. In Peru, a local woman provided temporary housing and activities out of benevolence for street children who face violence, trafficking and uncertainty every day. In many countries, most notably in Italy, churches work actively to rescue victims of trafficking and pulling them out of slavery by giving them a better life with opportunities. By working locally, we can make things change, but this requires the effort of everyone, not just “the chosen few”. As the example of Parreñas on the Japanese government showed, simple restrictions and ignorance of the actual heart of the issue will not solve anything, but instead create more illegal routes for trafficking and slavery to happen. A wider safety net for trafficked people is needed and the victims should not be punished for coming to the police and asking for help.

It is easy to ignore these issues, to think that it isn’t happening in your country or that it is too difficult to get involved. By thinking like this we will never be able to change things and rescue victims from the unacceptable conditions they live in all over the world. I acknowledge that with the resources we have now it is not possible to save everyone, but in order to tackle these issues we must think positively and proceed step by step. There are many options out there for us to explore, many cases in which local people have taken a step forward and done something about it. Even one victim with better opportunities, a real job and a much better life is already a victory in our battle against human trafficking and slavery.

Filipino hostesses in Japan: Volition or Coercion?

Rhacel Parreñas in the field, working as a hostess in Tokyo

by Jonas Horvei

According to the United Nations Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons (2013), human trafficking can be defined as:

“[t]he recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation.”

In this week’s blog post I would like to examine to whether or not Filipino hostesses working Japan can be considered as victims of human trafficking, especially under the category of sex trafficking. I will also consider whether there is a possibility that this is not the case of human trafficking, but rather an action which they carry out by their own volition.

First of all I would like to examine what kind of typical activities a hostess performs while working in a bar in Japan.

  • Takes on the role as an entertainer
  • Pours her customers drinks, often alcoholic beverages
  • Dances with them
  • Sings for her customers, often karaoke
  • Talks with her customers, being engaged in a conversation, often with a bit of “flirtative” nature, often while at the same time complimenting them.

On the basis of only this, it is naturally impossible to say whether these people working in such establishment are victims of human trafficking or not. Nevertheless if we look a bit deeper and consider if this at the perspective of sex trafficking we can start hypothesizing at least. According to the U.S Code §7102 – (10) sex trafficking can be defined as the following;

The term “sex trafficking” means the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for the purpose of a commercial sex act”.

Judging from this definition, there does not seem to be any particular aspects that resembles a commercial sex act, and thus I argue that such kind of cannot be considered a case of sex trafficking. Although occasionally acts such as masturbating the customer did occur, nothing was mentioned whether this was carried out by their own volition or not. Looking at the culture of south-east Asian countries though, such “happy ending” customs are fairly normal in especially massage establishments such as in China and Thailand, which might explain why this is not necessarily  considered prostitution. While there are Filipinos working as prostitutes in Japan, at least on the surface it seems to me at first glance that the Filipino who come to serve as hostess, are mainly not victims of sexual trafficking.

For the meantime, let us go back to the case of human trafficking and see if there is any evidence that these workers can be considered victims of such a phenomenon. While indeed, it is likely that some of the Filipinos who migrate to Japan are forced to go against their own volition, and thus can be defined as victims of human trafficking, I argue that this is the exception rather than the norm. According to Parreñas (2011 p.3) no conclusive evidence exists that these workers are victims of human trafficking, but rather research indicates that most of the workers take this decision by themselves, and migrate by their own volition. Yet again according to Parreñas (2003 p.199), as much as 34 to 54 percent of the Filipino population is sustained by remittances by migrant workers. Such numbers tells exactly how much of an importance overseas Filipinos workers affect the homeland economy.

Nevertheless despite most of these people not being victims of human trafficking, there is no question that especially for migrants in such vulnerable occupations the working conditions can be lackluster, and that they might be victims of forced labor. This is something which needs to urgently be addressed, preferably in collaboration between the Philippines and the Japanese government.

Since 1999, Japan’s immigration policies have made it considerably more difficult, ultimately forcing many bars to shut down and many having difficulty coming over to work as hostesses (National University of Singapore, 2012). However, imposing restrictions on entertainer visas is in my opinion not a solution to combat human trafficking, or rather it is not a solution to improve the labor conditions for Filipino hostesses. Rather, I think such restrictions are what actually promotes and can actually be the trigger to human trafficking in the first place.

These migrants cannot work in their own country, the wages are either not enough to support a family, or simply they cannot find a jobs. Then naturally the next step is to seek work elsewhere, a different city, or a different country. Suddenly these options start to dwindle, and one is only left with the options of either living a life full of poverty or as a last resort they become victims or sexual trafficking, or become prostitutions out of their own volition to take care of their family.

I argue that hostess is a harmless job, and as long as this work is carried out of their own volition, restrictions should be lessened on entertainer visas, back to the way they used to be. Still, these people will continue to be exploited due to their resident status and so on, and therefore I believe the most important step to take now is rather than imposing more and more restrictions, a step in the right direction would be to protect these people by giving them more rights to them being victims of forced labor, and to collectively come up with a solution which can benefit all parties involved.

As summarized by the United Nations Global Programme against Trafficking in Human Beings report, a lot of the responsibility lay at the hands of the Japanese and Filipino government to improve this situation (Cameron and Newman).

References

“Human Trafficking.”  United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime. Accessed 17 Nov. 2013. http://www.unodc.org/unodc/en/human-trafficking/what-is-human-trafficking.html

“U.S Codes – USC§ 7102 Definitions” Cornell University Law School. Accessed 17 Nov. 2013., http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/22/7102

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. Illicit Flirtation; Labor, Migration, and Sex Trafficking in Tokyo. Stanford University Press (2011).

Parreñas, Rhacel Salazar. 2003. “The Care Crisis in the Philippines: Children and Transnational Families in the New Global Economy.” Pp. 39-54 in Global Woman: Nannies, Maids, and Sex Workers in the New Economy. New York: Metropolitan Books

“Filipino in Hostess Clubs.” National University of Singapore, 29 Apr. 2012. Accessed 17 Nov 2013 http://wiki.nus.edu.sg/display/JPE2012/Filipino+in+hostess+clubs

Cameron, Sally, and Edward Newman. “Trafficking of Filipino Women to Japan: Examining the Experiences and Perspectives of Victims and Government experts” United Nations University. Online-only journal. Accessed Nov 17. 2013. http://www.unodc.org/pdf/crime/human_trafficking/Exec_summary_UNU.pdf