Japan again saw a record number of minors falling victim to crimes such as molestation through the use of social media last year, with many of those affected having had unrestricted Internet access, police data released Thursday showed.
Although there were fewer people victimized through the use of chat services connecting total strangers, cases involving social media for connecting multiple acquaintances have increased, according to a report by the National Police Agency.
A total of 1,736 people under 18 had been victimized in the full year, beating the previous record of 1,652 in 2015 by 84, and more than doubling from the levels in 2008, when police began keeping records.
Of the victims, females accounted for 94.8 percent while 86.9 percent used smartphones. A total of 88.2 percent of the 1,465 victims whom police were able to confirm their device status had no Internet filtering, the data showed.
“There are dangers in regular applications and websites people commonly use, and they can be victimized depending on how they use the services,” an NPA official said, urging parents to introduce Internet filters to protect their children.
A conference of online site operators will be set up within this fiscal year to take preventive measures as well, the official said.
The largest number of cases involved victims using Twitter at 446, nearly doubling from the previous year, while those using the Gyaruru chat app fell to 136 from 203.
The number of victims in crimes involving online dating sites fell to 42, down 51 from the previous year. It has steadily declined since regulations for such sites entered into force in 2003.
Under the law, online dating sites need to be registered and ban minors’ use, but applying such regulations to social network services is said to be difficult.
The latest data showed the largest number of victims were 16-year-olds, accounting for 25.9 percent. The number of 17-year-old victims stood at 24.2 percent, while 15-year-olds were 18.6 percent, and 14-year-olds were 17.5 percent. The youngest victim was 9.
By crime, the largest proportion, at 38.1 percent, were victims to molestation and other violations of ordinances for protecting minors. It was followed by child pornography, accounting for 32.4 percent, and child prostitution, 24.5 percent. There were 20 people who were abducted.
Among the 1,331 cases in which police were able to confirm the reasons the victims met the perpetrators, over 40 percent were linked to paid dating, with 34.1 percent of them citing “money or goods,” and 9.8 percent, “sexual purposes.”
A total of 17.9 percent met the perpetrators “for friendship,” and 17.7 percent said they met them because they were nice to them or listened to them.
With about half of the victims saying they do not remember being educated for safe Internet use and other data mirroring minors lacking awareness for crimes and dangers involved in Internet use, the police are urging parents to restrict their children’s Internet use with filters and calling on site operators to introduce Internet zoning to prevent minors from meeting adults online.
People are also taking matters into their own hands. Over 200 organizations with more than 8,000 people across Japan are cyberpatrolling or holding classes for helping children use the Internet safely.
Student organizations comprising nearly 40 percent of such groups have been reporting unlawful websites or posts and have helped police investigations in a number of cases, the police said.