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Enjo Kosai Girls: Identity Confusion

Info: 2222 words (9 pages) Dissertation
Published: 4th Oct 2021

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Tagged: Social Work


The term ‘enjo kosai’ has appeared prevalently at Hong Kong in around October 2007, after a local newspaper reported that girls dating for compensation and branded product. However, the seriousness of the problem was not addressed until a 16-year-old enjo kosai girl was killed and dismembered by a 24-year-old man who was a drug abuser in July 2009. This incident aroused huge social concern towards this emerging trend which is originated from Japan. What is the situation in Hong Kong? This paper aims to review this problem by pointing out that negative family factors is an antecedents of enjo kosai girls in Hong Kong, as well as analyzing that these girls tend to be in the identity diffusion status. Roles of social workers, dilemma they face and future invention strategies are also discussed.


Background of Enjo Kosai

‘Enjo Kosai’, abbreviated as ‘enko’, which is translated in English as ‘Compensated Dating’ or ‘Subsidized Dating’, is a term originated in Japan. ‘Enjo’ means ‘to assist’ and ‘Kosai’ means ‘dating’. The term was first report in a Japan Newspaper in September, 1994. With the spread of internet and cultural interflow, it was soon being prevalent in South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong. At first, the definition meant teenage girls dating an older man for money or gifts, so as to ‘assist’ them from loneliness. Teenage girls regarded it as a part-time job, and for some of the participants, sex became part of the process. With the addition of sex for pay, the meaning of this activity became unclear. Nowadays, enjo kosai has generally turned into teenage sex work.

The major difference between with prostitution is that, prostitution is generally performed in a brothel or by arrangement of a third party, while in enjo kosai, the fact is girls can choose men. If a girl does not like a man when she first sees him, she can leave him. As they are not bounded by any contract, they can conduct enjo kosai only when they need extra money.

Causes of Enjo Kosai

As suggested by Matsumoto (2002), in a survey by Asahi Shimbun in 1998, people where asked what they perceived to be the main contributing factors to this obvious social problem. The most common response was that ‘parents cannot discipline their children’ and ‘society overemphasizes the desire of goods’. Typically girls commit in enjo kosai spend the money on expensive brand-named goods or on activities with friends.

Although monetary reward underlies each of enjo kosai girls, apparently there are several explanations for the reasons behind. According to a Japanese study as suggested by Wakabayashi (2003), Maruta (2001) analyzed that there are three reasons why girls engage in enjo kosai: 1) efficiency of making money, 2) sexual desire, and 3) psychological compensation. The ratio among these three categories was 3:1:6.

For the reason of psychological compensation, Maruta analyzed that there are two subcategories:

1) Girls are grown up in defective families and struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder or PSTD, which is a multidimensional construct of stress response syndromes. These girls have experienced some sort of trauma in their lives. This trauma might be physical, e.g., being raped or being physically abused by their parents; or it might be emotional, e.g., experiencing their parents’ divorce.

2) Girls seek to gain sexual experience, affirm their own sexual attractiveness and are possible to set a price for their bodies.

Maruta’s analysis found there might be certain psychological connections between enjo kosai and the compensation for the lack of love, loneliness and past trauma experiences. Not surprisingly, other recent research found the same result. McCoy (2004) suggested that many teenage girls who engage in enjo kosai experience family dysfunction and a lack of communication with their parents, or they feel overprotected or stifled. They tend to be unable to exercise self-restraint, act impulsively and feel lonely.

Research on Enjo Kosai in Hong Kong

As enjo kosai is an emerging issue in Hong Kong, little formal research is done as it is a new research topic. A few local social service agencies conducted exploratory research. Some significant research include

1) ‘An Exploratory Study of Enjo Kosai Girls in Hong Kong’ by Yang Memorial Methodist Social Service (2008): This is one of the earliest comprehensive exploratory studies on the emergence of enjo kosai in Hong Kong. Information of enjo kosai websites and other internet sources were extensively analyzed and six enjo kosai girls were being interviewed. Causes, prevalence and impact of enjo kosai were discussed.

2) ‘Adolescents’ Views on Enjo Kosai’ by Hong Kong Christian Service (2009) &

3) ‘Secondary Student’s Knowledge and Values of Enjo Kosai’ by Hong Kong Association of Sexuality Educators, Researchers & Therapists (2009): They have done similar research on the causes of enjo kosai in Hong Kong, the value system of adolescents and their perception on this issue. Both studies suggested adolescents’ perceptions of the main reason that girls engage in enjo kosai is the efficiency of making money to buy branded products. These support the analysis of Kuruta (2001).

4) ‘Uncontrollable Desire of Consumerism? - Rethinking the Problem of Enjo Kosai in Hong Kong’ by Office of Hon Cheung Kwok Che, Member of Legislative Council (Social Welfare Functional Constituency) & Shiu, K. C. (2009): This study interviewed several enjo kosai girls and summarized different perspectives of viewing this problem in Hong Kong, including how society, police and the law treat enjo kosai. Social workers’ roles, positioning and intervention method were discussed.

Negative Family Factors

Researchers have found parental and family relationship relates to teenage girls’ sexual behavior, which applies to enjo kosai in this paper. Parental characteristics, family relationships, and attitudes, values and norms of family members also have been associated with adolescent sexual behaviors (Dorius et al., 1993). Adolescents from single-parent families have been shown to begin sexual intercourse at younger ages than those from two-parent families (Miller & Bingham, 1989). Thornton and Camburn (1987) found that both parents and adolescents who have experienced divorce have more permissive attitudes about non-marital sexual intercourse.

In addition, other than family factors that affect sexual behaviors, adolescents’ disclosure on their activities, i.e., communication with family also plays an important role in escalating and fostering enjo kosai activities. Dishion et al. (2004) suggested that monitoring is embedded within the parent–child relationship. Stoolmiller (1994) made a similar point that some teenagers actively avoid parental supervision, especially are disinclined to share information about their comings and goings and with whom they spend time. Both parent’s attempt and children’s willingness to disclose affect parent’s involvement in and influence on children (Dishion et al., 2004).

Marcia’s Identity Statuses - Identity Diffusion

Erikson (1950, 1968) suggested the descriptions of identity formation as a particularly adolescent activity. He grounded that adolescents need to confront the crisis of identity versus role confusion. Marcia (1966) extended Erikson’s theory into a structured Identity Statuses by accessing individuals’ ‘crisis’ and ‘commitment’. This includes 1) Identity achievement – crisis leading to commitment; 2) Foreclosure – commitment without crisis; 3) Moratorium – crisis with no commitment yet; & 4) Identity Diffusion – no commitment, no crisis.

Marcia (1976) revealed that the Identity Diffusion individuals had in common a lack of direction and purpose in their lives and a pervasive air of unconcern about the matter. Some individuals were drifting and some were distressed. They seemed to have “jobs” rather than occupations. They tended to be controlled largely by immediate environmental influences. Kroger (1993) suggested that parents of identity defused adolescents are more likely laissez-faire in child-rearing attitudes. They are rejecting or not available to children. The adolescents’ personalities tended to be with low levels of ego development, moral reasoning, cognitive complexity and self-certainly. They tended to have poor cooperative abilities.


Negative Family Factor as Antecedents of Enjo Kosai Activities in Hong Kong

Following Dishion et al (2004) ‘s interaction effect between adolescents developing deviant friendships and parents disengaging from family management, this paper applies the argument to enjo kosai: If a girl is involved in enjo kosai, her behavior will escalate under conditions of low parent monitoring, negative parent communication, and poor relationship quality. This interaction of family management degradation and enjo kosai involvement is also in line with Dishion et al.’s premature autonomy hypothesis.

Though having a small sample size in Hong Kong, Yang Memorial Methodist Social Service (2008) found that all girls who engaged in enjo kosai they interviewed have a poor relationship with their families. They lacked communication with their parents and siblings, some were being abused and some parents were divorced. It is obvious that parental and family relationship strongly relates to enjo kosai activities in Hong Kong. Some interviewees agreed that their divorced family background might also foster them to involve in enjo kosai for psychological compensation of love and care.

Identity Diffusion of Enjo Kosai Girls in Hong Kong

From the above literature, it is reviewed that girls who engaged in enjo kosai activities could be applied as in the Identity Diffusion status. Despite McCoy (2004) found that in Southeast Asia, some girls who engage in compensated dating were frequently from middle or upper-middle-class families and were commonly good students and school leaders, while in Hong Kong, the situation is not the same. The few local studies suggested that enjo kosai girls in Hong Kong tend to have no commitment to schooling, education and have no seriously considered options of future career. Some of them treated enjo kosai as a part-time job. Their parents do not tend to discuss the future with these girls.

The characteristics of Identity Diffusion adolescents also include high degree of anxiety and fluctuation in feelings about self and their dominant characteristics. Yang Memorial Methodist Social Service (2008)’s findings supported these. The girls they interviewed are distressed, anxious, uncertain about themselves when they were alone and psychologically empty. Abortion was also reported from some girls.

Roles of Social Workers in Hong Kong

The roles of social workers are controversial. Office of Hon. Cheung & Shiu (2009) discussed extensively about the roles and ethical dilemma of social workers face when handling with enjo kosai cases. For example, 1) the dilemma between being responsible to the case owner (enjo kosai girl) versus being accountable to the school: whether social workers should confidentially help the enjo kosai girls or they should report to the school principal once they receive a case; and 2) the intervention of institutionalized life is good for all girls: whether putting enjo kosai girls into girls home is advantageous regardless of their long-term identity and personality development as well as social network. Office of Hon. Cheung & Shiu (2009) also argued that the role of social worker is more like police. They claimed that nowadays more social workers tend to report and publicize the case rather than focus on confidentially due to social pressure. However, the intervention phase will be affected and might not be aiming at the biggest interest of the case owner.

It is suggested a balance should be kept when facing the dilemma of confidentiality versus accountability. More agencies could conduct research on this topic so that social workers will understand more on the reasons behind enjo kosai and to help these girls. More training to social workers could be provided on this topic and outreaching teams that focus on this target group could be formed.


This paper concluded that negative family factors are antecedents of enjo kosai girls in Hong Kong. It also discussed that these girls tend to be in the identity diffusion status. This would be useful for social workers, social service agencies, sociologists and the government to understand more about enjo kosai, the role of family factors as well as the girls’ psychological development.

It is recommended that more comprehensive sex education shall be given in early and middle adolescence stage so as to build up and achieve youths’ positive identity. On the other hand, more aid shall be given to existing enjo kosai girls in Hong Kong by social workers with focused outreaching teams.

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