Japan opens hotline for male sex abuse victims after boyband scandal

A woman walks past a roadside television screen reporting the death of Johnny Kitagawa, founder of Japanese talent agency Johnny & Associates, in Tokyo on July 10, 2019. - AFP

TOKYO (AFP): The Japanese government will set up a hotline for male victims of sexual abuse, a minister announced on Tuesday (Sept 19), as the country grapples with an abuse scandal at the biggest boyband agency.

The hotline will be available to boys and men for three months from Friday and specialists will take calls for counselling, according to the Cabinet Office.

"We hope victims will feel safe and can consult without hesitation," Ayuko Kato, minister in charge of children-related policy, told reporters.

The move comes as the boyband empire Johnny & Associates admitted for the first time earlier this month that founder Johnny Kitagawa had sexually assaulted young recruits over decades.

Kitagawa died aged 87 in 2019, having engineered the birth of J-pop mega-groups including SMAP, TOKIO and Arashi that amassed adoring fans across Asia.

Allegations that he abused young men who wanted to be stars surfaced in Japanese media in 1999.

But it was not until this year that they ignited full-on soul-searching, following a BBC documentary and denunciations by victims.

The Japanese government has been offering a 24-hour hotline for both male and female sexual abuse victims, but a Cabinet Office official told AFP that there were concerns that men might feel reluctant to use the service.

The new hotline is part of the government's "emergency plan" against sexual abuse of children.

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