Aichi Prefectural Police's Juvenile Division replies to the tweet above, which suggests that the user is looking for a patron in exchange of sexual favors, warning that it could lead to serious crimes. (Image partially modified, taken from Aichi Prefectural Police Juvenile Division official Twitter account)

Japan police use effective tactic of replying to tweets aimed at minors for sex crimes

NAGOYA -- An effort to eradicate suspicious Twitter posts that could lead to child prostitution or child pornography taken by prefectural police in central Japan, where law enforcers directly reply to such tweets to warn of the risks, has proven to be effective, with police departments in other prefectures following suit.

Aichi Prefectural Police's Juvenile Division launched an initiative in October last year to reply to inappropriate tweets such as those soliciting "patrons" by accounts of those appearing to be minors or those from adults asking for sexual images of minors. Aichi police officers reply to such tweets, commenting that these posts could lead to sex crimes and that meeting with strangers could result in serious incidents such as kidnapping or even murder. It also sends out warnings to those believed to be adults, stating, "Sexual offenses targeting children are extremely malicious."

According to the National Police Agency (NPA), the number of those aged 17 and under who were involved in crimes because of interactions they had on social media totaled 1,811 in 2018, an increase of 1.4 times in five years. More than 90% of those minors were involved in sex-related crimes such as sexual assault, child prostitution or child pornography. About 40% fell victim to such crimes after Twitter interactions.

Twitter is full of risky posts by those appearing to be minors looking for dates involving money exchanges and offering to provide nude photos, such as "High school girl looking for a patron. 3,000 yen for holding hands or sharing a hug" and "Please contact me if you want sexual images of junior high school girls." There are also many tweets from adults asking for sexual favors or images by minors. To counter these tweets, police officers conventionally interacted with the users while hiding their identities and actually met with the minors to give correctional guidance. But this tactic takes time and in many cases the target users stop replying, limiting the number of cases for law enforcement to handle.

While the number of cases where police gave correctional guidance to minors totaled 309 in 2018, the number of replies Aichi police made to suspicious tweets in one year up to the end of September was 1,448. These replies have resulted in some users deleting their posts or accounts after realizing that police were monitoring. There are those who post similar tweets using different accounts, but a prefectural police representative is positive about the effects of these warning replies, saying, "By receiving a message directly from police, people might realize how serious or dangerous their tweets could be."

The NPA is recommending this method and at least nine prefectural police departments including Tokyo, Kanagawa, Hokkaido and Hyogo have implemented similar measures.

According to research conducted by Masanori Ikebe, associate professor at Bunkyo University's Faculty of Information & Communications, on the ripple effect of the warning reply effort, the number of posts that could lead to sex crimes involving minors was some 65,000 in October last year, and the figure dropped to about 46,000 in September this year.

Ikebe says, "I believe there are many users who have stopped posting these tweets completely as the initiative has expanded." The police agency stated that police will work on preventing sex crimes against children while combining the Twitter reply method and conventional correctional guidance programs.

(Japanese original by Hitomi Takai, Nagoya News Center)