The Real World is Gray

In a previous post about the way some people define human trafficking (What Is Human Trafficking), I took exception to the inclusion of hostess bars as a destination for victims in that industry. I try to always be open to the possibility that I may be wrong, so I’m willing to re-examine my views from a different standpoint.

I have friends who have worked in hostess bars because they wanted the high level of compensation on offer. They did not have to do anything other than talk and listen. I also visited a hostess bar with staff from the Philippines whose staff seemed to be working there for the same reasons as my Japanese friends. I didn’t consider them to be trafficked workers.

Now that I think about it, I remember the Filipino hostesses telling me that they’d come to Japan on an entertainer visa and had to pretend to be singers. In truth, there were two women there who considered themselves to be professional singers, while the rest had entered the country under a false pretense. They weren’t engaged in any illegal activities while they were here; they told a lie so they could work here ‘legally’.

What were their working conditions like? I know what the bar was like, but I don’t know about their living conditions other than they all lived together. Is it possible that the bar had paid for them to fly to Japan and would refuse to allow them to seek work elsewhere or otherwise leave until they’d paid off that debt? It’s possible (and their visa may also have prevented them from seeking work elsewhere). Could it be that they were charged for their living expenses, such as accomodation, food and medical costs? I’d go as far as to say it’s likely. Were the bar owners holding onto their passports? I can neither confirm nor deny it. It’s beginning to sound like those descriptions of human trafficking I’ve read. Were all of those women victims?

One of the singers was working in the bar for the third time in her career. She said she travelled from country to country doing the same thing. She knew what she was doing and what to expect. If she’d been trafficked, she was definately complicit at some level. But is she still categorised as a victim?

Some women may come to Japan to work in hostess bars without realising they’re going to have some of their human rights taken away or perform work they hadn’t signed up for (such as prostitution). Some may have full knowledge of what they’re getting themselves into and others may just expect to be treated badly no matter what they do because they’re in a foreign land. Of course, there may be those who simply have a good experience and make a lot of money.

Out of these, whom should the law protect as victims? Should anyone who works for a dodgy operation automatically qualify for a place in human trafficking statistics? It’s not difficult to understand why we see wildly different results when people try to quantify the problem of human trafficking.

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