[7 October 2008 - CRIN Reports] - Cases of child prostitution involving dating-service cafes have been increasing sharply, prompting some local governments to take measures such as banning people under 18 from entering such establishments.
Inside the cafes, men choose women from among the female clientèle and try to secure dates with them. The system has triggered many cases of prostitution involving minors.
In a sizable number of such cases, minors who entered the cafes purely out of curiosity have been targeted.
The local governments, including the Kanagawa and Kyoto prefectural governments, revised their local ordinances to ban under 18s from entering such cafes.
One such facility near JR Yokohama Station displays a sign saying, "Coffee shop with manga library--no entrance fee for women." The floor is separated into two areas by a one-way mirror with the height of the floor in the men's area about 50 centimeters lower than that of the women's.
Male customers, some wearing business suits, gaze at young women sitting on sofas through the one-way mirror.
Female customers cannot see the men.
The cafe displays a notice saying girls aged 16 or older are welcome. The women included girls in school uniforms. Clerks tell the male customers, "If you see a girl you like, feel free to name her."
The cafe is open from 9 a.m. to midnight and about 200 people--both male and female--visit each day.
If a female customer is chosen, she chats with the man for about 10 minutes. If she agrees to a date outside the cafe, the man pays her "transportation expenses."
The man also pays the cafe an admission fee, a naming fee and a fee if he manages to arrange a date, totaling about 8,000 yen.
Women do not have to pay for anything.
According to the National Police Agency, the number of such dating-service cafes began increasing around 2006. As of the end of 2007, there were 77 such facilities in Tokyo and 14 other prefectures.
With 27, Tokyo has the highest number of such establishments, followed by 11 in Aichi Prefecture, nine in Osaka Prefecture, and seven each in Kanagawa and Saitama prefectures. The cafes tend to be concentrated in big cities.
Though 22 of the 77 cafes display signs banning under 18s, an NPA official said, "It's impossible to confirm whether the cafes are actually checking customers' ages."
Some cafes display signs saying that under 18s are welcome.
According to the NPA's data, the first cases of child prostitution and sexual abuse involving the dating-service cafes surfaced in 2007, with 26 such incidents reported.
This year, there had been 22 such cases as of the end of August, including incidents involving two middle school students. This reflects a trend in which the ages of female customers is dropping.
A 15-year-old third year middle school student said she was initially invited by a friend to visit a dating-service cafe in Yokohama. She said she was plied with alcohol outside the cafe and sexually abused.
Investigators of the Kanagawa prefectural police quoted her as saying: "I treated it all very lightly as I thought I'd be able to dine for free. I never thought I'd be taken to a hotel. I regret it now."
A senior official of the prefectural police said: "Many girls hear rumors that they'll be able to dine at a man's expense, and visit such cafes just for curiosity or in the hope of getting money. Though this is no different from brokering child prostitution, the current laws can't cover these cases."
A law for regulating entertainment businesses prohibits people under 18 from entering or working in certain businesses, such as telephone-dating establishments and cabaret clubs.
But the law cannot cover the dating-service cafes and similar cases as the females involved are not employed by the business operators.
The manager of one such cafe involved in a prostitution case said: "I just offer opportunities for people to meet. I can't be held responsible for what happens outside my cafe."
In January, the NPA instructed prefectural police headquarters across the nation to check potentially unlawful acts conducted by dating-service cafe operators. But so far, only one cafe has been investigated over child prostitution.
In that case, the Metropolitan Police Department applied a clause of an ordinance regulating dating clubs that prohibits minors from entering the premises and limits areas where such facilities can operate, against a manager and employees of a dating-service cafe in the Ikebukuro district of Tokyo on suspicion that they allowed a 16-year-old high school girl, who later became involved in prostitution, to enter the cafe.
The MPD regarded the operators of the cafe as brokers in paid sexual services. However, only Tokyo has such a local ordinance.
On Sunday, the Saitama prefectural police detained the manager and employees of a dating-service cafe on suspicion of brokering prostitution services involving adult women.
In the case, the manager paid "waiting fees" to female customers. The prefectural police thus regarded they had an employer-employee relationship.
But in cases in which dating-service cafe operators do not pay or offer other benefits to women, finding ways of cracking down on them is difficult.
Kanagawa prefectural police and some other police forces investigated several such cafes on suspicion of brokering child prostitution services, but no arrests were made.
Police have had to use other techniques, such as applying the Trademark Law, to investigate the cafes.
Yukio Akatsuka, a social affairs commentator, said, "Girls are using these cafes in the same way they use manga or Internet cafes.""Such cafes are more risky than telephone dating clubs in that the girls could be caught up in child prostitution while they think they are just having fun. The business operators are irresponsible," he added.
Traffickers are getting more and more creative. And the lines are getting "gray."