Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

  • Photo/Illustraion
  • Photo/Illustraion

A teenage girl thought nothing about sending a nude selfie to a stranger on the Internet in November last year. After all, the fortysomething man said he would give her enough money to buy a ticket for a live concert in exchange.

After he received the photo, the man demanded that she date him in real life.

The girl refused, and the man issued an ultimatum: “You must simply say ‘yes’ to everything I say if you don’t want your photo to go viral.”

Tokyo police arrested the predator in July this year on suspicion of violating the law against child prostitution and pornography.

But the teenager’s nightmare did not end there. According to police, the suspect had spread the girl’s image online, so some copies of the photo remain on the Internet.

Police, government officials and telecommunication carriers are taking measures to prevent such crimes, starting with the source for such acts: the reckless behavior of the victims themselves.

The number of children who have taken nude selfies and shared them over the Internet has doubled over the last five years.

In some cases, the victims were talked into providing such pictures by strangers through casual online conversations.

According to the National Police Agency, 40 percent of child pornography victims last year, or 480, had taken the inappropriate photos on their own.

The number of such victims has been rising since 2012, when the figure was 207.

About 80 percent of the victims reportedly sent their images to people they got to know through the Line messaging app, Twitter and other online services.

The NPA this fiscal year is conducting its first survey on children victimized through their own sexually explicit selfies. The agency will ask the children and their guardians about details of their cases.

A special website run by the Tokyo metropolitan government provides consultations to children suffering from Internet-related problems. The ratio of selfie cases rose to 7.6 percent last year from 1.8 percent in 2012, officials said.

Many of the victims said they provided the sexually explicit images just to put an end to the recipients’ persistent and embarrassing requests.

One child was tricked by a person who pretended to be the same sex as the victim. At least one consultation was provided to a male student.

A girl was sexually abused by a perpetrator after he sent a message: “I will delete the photo if you meet with me,” according to the officials.

Akira Sakamoto, a social psychology professor at Ochanomizu University, who is familiar with the impact that online activities have on children, said the spread of smartphones, photo-posting features on social networking websites, and the anonymity in online communications have led to an increase in careless behavior among children.

Sakamoto said those aged from 13 to 18 tend to underestimate the damage they could suffer from such dangerous activities.

“Useful countermeasures will involve not only showing children the dangers of posting selfies online and introducing tools that allow guardians to monitor their children’s activities, but also imposing restrictions on requests for such images,” Sakamoto said.

Tokyo’s Metropolitan Police Department and NTT Docomo Inc. offered a special education course from September on how to protect children from Internet-related crimes and problems. The course was based on a memorandum signed by the company and the police department.

In a classroom at an elementary school in Tokyo’s Shinjuku Ward, an NTT Docomo official showed a photo of a boy holding a certificate.

“What type of personal information in the picture do you think should not be disclosed online,” the instructor from NTT Docomo asked 60 sixth-graders.

The students said the “face” and the “name” were especially sensitive information. One child noted that “the backdrop of the photo could enable viewers to locate the place” where the image was taken.

The instructor explained the hazards of disclosing personal data on the Internet, saying, “Just a single photo could cause you to be victimized by a crime.”

NTT Docomo plans to provide similar lessons at elementary, junior high and senior high schools in the capital and elsewhere. The content of the program will change depending on the age of the students or on requests from the school.

The Tokyo government in December plans to submit to the metropolitan assembly an amendment to its healthy youth development ordinance that will prohibit people from paying or blackmailing children under 18 years old into providing what could be regarded as child pornography.

Hyogo Prefecture is expected to submit a similar ordinance revision to the prefectural assembly in December.