Saturday, November 18, 2000

Spokane

Kidnap may be porn-related
Internet porn market may have driven abduction of Japanese students

Bill Morlin and Virginia de Leon
Staff writers

Spokane _ Police are following leads that two young Japanese women kidnapped in Spokane last weekend may have been used in a scripted crime photographed for pornography markets.

U.S. Customs Service agents who specialize in Internet pornography trafficking are assisting in the investigation, a spokesman in Washington, D.C., confirmed Friday.

Spokane detectives assigned to a special 12-member task force are working overtime this weekend, hoping for tips on a newly installed hotline
, to catch the three kidnappers.

Three women, Japanese students studying at Mukogawa Fort Wright Institute in West Spokane, were kidnapped last Saturday. One was quickly released.

The victims were handcuffed, blindfolded and transferred between two vehicles during the daylight kidnapping.

Two of the women were taken to a location about 30 minutes from a bus stop at the Mukogawa campus, which adjoins Spokane Falls Community College.

The young women were held captive for nine hours at the unknown location. Police won't say what happened to the victims there. After being freed, the women were examined at a local hospital.

The kidnapping was similar to an Oct. 28 abduction of two other Japanese students, who managed to escape their abductors.

Assistant Police Chief Al Odenthal would not say Friday why the department took the extraordinary step of assigning 12 detectives to the case.

He and other police supervisors also refuse to say whether the women were sexually molested or raped.

"It would be counterproductive to the investigation" to reveal such information, Odenthal told reporters Friday.

"I'm not free to discuss the specifics of this investigation," Odenthal said earlier. "Whether something else happened in the house has absolutely nothing to do with the details of whether we are going to be able to identify these individuals," Odenthal said.

The assistant chief, however, gave a hint of what occurred when he said the abduction was "first-degree kidnapping."

That crime occurs in Washington when a person is held:

•for ransom.

•to facilitate another felony.

•to inflict bodily injury.

•to inflict extreme mental distress.

•to interfere with the performance of any governmental function.

Police are pursuing the theory that the blindfolded victims were photographed or videotaped by kidnappers interested in making money from the lucrative porn market tied to the Internet, sources familiar with the investigation said.

Many people who purchase pornographic pictures and videos, including a huge male audience in Japan, are particularly interested in child porn or young women made to look like children, experts say.

"The way this thing was carried out with such precision it leads to the theory, and this is only speculation, that these kidnappers were carrying out a script written by someone else," one Internet porn expert said.

The person who planned the crime may have paid for his scripted sexual fantasy, and now may be selling or trading the pictures.

"They're almost the rapist, but they're one step back," said the porn expert, who asked not to be identified. "Their excitement would come from seeing their script carried out."

Such a person could have met the kidnappers through Internet Relay Chats, commonly called "chat rooms," where particular sexual interests are discussed, experts say.

Use of the Internet to disseminate such pornography is a federal crime if the victims are under 18. The three women abducted last weekend were 18, 19 and 20.

"Yes, Spokane law enforcement did contact Customs, and we are assisting," said Patrick Jones, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs Service in Washington, D.C.

"I can't tell you what we're doing," Jones added.

The query was directed to the Customs Service's newly funded "Cyber Smuggling Headquarters," which tracks Internet porn.

Hiroshi Takaoka, executive vice president of Mukogawa, said he has not heard that the women were sexually exploited.

"I've never heard of that," Takaoka said. "I didn't hear that from the girls."

But Takaoka said he was not present when the women were interviewed by police. A translator was present, he said, but he could not recall who the person was. "I didn't ask the girls anything about what they told the police," he said.

Shoji Sato, senior consul of the Japanese consulate in Seattle, had no comment on what happened to the two women.

"We have no information," Sato said. "We haven't heard from Mr. Takaoka."

Protecting the students' privacy must be a priority, Takaoka said.

In his culture, when someone has "experienced something unhappy," people tend to not talk about it.

"I see them every day but I try not to talk about what's happened," Takaoka said. "I try to have them come out of this unhappy feeling as soon as possible."

The two women are 18 and 19 years old. One is from Fukuyama near Hiroshima, and the other is from Hirakata near Osaka.

They are both doing fine now, Takaoka said. All three are staying at his home and being cared for by his wife. They will start attending class again on Monday, he said.

"Having been handcuffed in a foreign country, they've been through many stresses," Takaoka said.

Police say they will release a sketch today -- one week after the kidnappings -- of one of the suspects, a woman who joined two men in carrying out the crime.

The woman drove a red Subaru, which police are still attempting to locate.

In addition to the Mukogawa case, the task force also is investigating an attempted abduction of two Japanese students from Eastern Washington University.

That incident occurred Oct. 28 -- two weeks before the abduction of the Mukogawa students.

The women were waiting for a bus after scuba lessons at the Gonzaga University pool, according to an Eastern student service coordinator.

A man and woman pulled up in a reddish four-door car and offered the women a ride to the STA Plaza in downtown Spokane.

After the women got in the car, they were taken to a dead-end road. When they tried to escape, they were shocked in the thighs with a stun gun.

The women managed to escape and ran to Yoke's Foods on North Foothills Drive.

Takaoka hopes to establish a network among schools with international students so that they can share information.

"If Eastern's case had been reported, we could have given students warning," Takaoka said.

The department is conducting an internal investigation into why police did not follow up on the Oct. 28 abduction complaint.

Police Chief Roger Bragdon told reporters earlier this week that a language barrier was partially responsible. But now, police say that's not the case.

"We don't believe a language barrier is an excuse, nor was it an impediment to this particular investigation," Odenthal said Friday. "We haven't had any difficulties accessing people who can translate for us."

Police say that an interpreter was provided when EWU students were interviewed shortly after their abduction.

Memo: Anyone with information should call a special police hotline at 625-4196. The line isn't staffed but voice messages can be left. Secret Witness can also be contacted at 327-5111. Or send information to P.O. Box 1762, Spokane WA 99201 or through the department's Web page at www.spokanepolice.org


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