The government increased some efforts to protect victims. Authorities identified 46 trafficking victims, compared with 50 in 2016, in addition to 956 children exploited in commercial sex. The government increased efforts to screen for, identify, and provide appropriate protective services to victims among vulnerable groups, including girls subjected to labor and sex trafficking in the “JK” business. Of these 46 victims, the government identified 31 female sex trafficking victims (37 in 2016) and three labor trafficking victims (four in 2016), along with 12 additional victims of forced labor who were also likely subjected to sex trafficking (nine in 2016). National Police Agency (NPA) officials continued to use an IOM-developed handbook and the Inter-Ministerial Liaison Committee’s manuals to identify and refer victims to available protective services. The NPA also distributed a handbill for potential victims with emergency contact information in 10 languages. Only one victim identified in 2017 was male, and the government has never identified a forced labor victim within the TITP despite substantial evidence of trafficking indicators. Authorities continued to arrest and deport TITP participants—particularly those from Vietnam—who escaped forced labor and other abusive conditions in their contracted agencies. Despite identifying 956 cases of children exploited in commercial sex, police officially identified only six children as sex trafficking victims during the reporting period (10 in 2016); authorities continued to separate these statistics based on persistent definitional discrepancies that may have impacted service provision and proper law enforcement action. Police continued to treat some potential child sex trafficking victims as delinquents, counseling them on their behavior instead of screening them for victim status, investigating their cases, or referring them to specialized services; authorities arrested and initially charged some child victims in connection with their trafficking situations, though NGOs reported the authorities later dropped all such charges in 2017.
As in prior years, the government did not fund trafficking-specific shelters, but it continued to fund shelters run by Women’s Consulting Offices (WCOs) and those for victims of domestic violence. These shelters reported assisting 16 of the 46 victims identified in 2017 (15 in 2016), at least one of whom was under 18. An unknown number of additional victims received assistance in NGO shelters, where they could access government-subsidized medical care. WCO shelters provided food and other basic needs, psychological care, and coverage of medical expenses to victims, who were free to leave the facilities if accompanied by WCO personnel. The government allocated over 3.5 million yen ($31,100) for sheltering male trafficking victims, although it was unclear whether the sole male victim identified in 2017 received direct government assistance. The availability and quality of victim services varied according to prefecture-level officials’ relative experience with trafficking cases.
The Ministry of Health, Labor, and Welfare (MHLW) continued to partially fund an NGO-run general counseling hotline for foreign workers, but it was not trafficking-specific. The immigration bureau operated a similar hotline through which two victims were identified during the reporting period. Police also ran a general hotline through a private entity that fielded over 20,000 complaints in 2017, 182 of which were trafficking-related. This hotline was only available in the Japanese language, and none of the calls culminated in positive victim identification. The government continued to fund a program through an international organization to provide counseling, temporary refuge, social reintegration, and repatriation services to trafficking victims. Through this program, seven foreign victims received repatriation assistance (23 in 2016), and another eight who had been repatriated in previous years benefited from social reintegration services. Despite the existence of these services, international organizations and NGOs reported most foreign trafficking victims had limited or no access to other government-provided social services from which legal resident victims could benefit. NGOs highlighted a lack of language interpretation services as a particular challenge to the protection of foreign victims.
Although the law ostensibly protected victims from denial of entry into or deportation from Japan, inadequate screening of vulnerable groups reportedly led to the arrest and deportation of some victims due to immigration violations or other crimes committed as a result of being subjected to trafficking. NGOs noted increased cooperation between the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) to tighten victim screening of Japanese-Filipino children entering the country on residency arrangements, but authorities did not report whether this led to any positive identification. Temporary, long-term, and permanent residence benefits were available to foreign victims who feared the repercussions of returning to their countries of origin. In 2017, the government reported granting two long-term visas and 16 short-term visas to victims under these circumstances (compared with zero and 24, respectively, in 2016); some victims identified in 2017 already had residence permits at the time of identification. Victims had the right to file civil suits to seek compensation from their traffickers; some foreign workers, including potentially unidentified victims, and sex trafficking victims filed civil suits for non-payment of wages in 2017. However, companies ordered to provide restitution often filed for bankruptcy, making restitution awards nearly impossible. Civil society organizations reported some victims of coerced pornography chose not to participate in court proceedings against their traffickers out of fear that doing so would create stigma-based challenges to their reintegration and rehabilitation.