Comfort women are not prostitutes
The portrayal of “comfort women” as willingly-paid sex workers is a misleading attempt to rewrite history and silence the victims of sexual slavery during World War II.
A recent uproar began after the paper of Harvard Law School professor J Mark Ramseyer titled “Contracting for sex in the Pacific War” was published online in the International Review of Law and Economics which described Korean comfort women as “prostitutes” who had willingly entered into indenture contracts with entrepreneurs to work at war-front “brothels” in Southeast Asia.
The paper noted that the Japanese Army created standards for licensing so-called comfort stations for “healthy prostitutes” around Asia during World War II as a way of preventing the spread of venereal disease.
Ramseyer argued that the economic structure of the contracts indicated that sex work was voluntarily chosen, which in effect rationalized prostitution based on economic factors as the women were able to negotiate and command high wages for their sexual labors.
Ramseyer asserts that the comfort women “chose prostitution over alternative opportunities because they believed prostitution offered them a better outcome.”
He wrote that “prostitutes” who worked in the brothels signed contracts that were similar to those used in Tokyo brothels, but with shorter terms and higher pay to reflect the danger of working in war zones, some with large advances.
Though largely referring to South Korean victims, Lila Filipina lamented that it is an affront as well to the victims of Japanese war crimes in the Philippines who suffered the most horrible forms of military violence in the course of the brief but brutal Japanese occupation.
Lila Filipina pointed out that Ramseyer’s paper is nothing but a thinly- veiled attempt to discredit the whole narrative of Japanese wartime military sexual slavery.
It sanitizes the horrors of military sexual servitude in a language that also makes the abuse of colonial conquest sound so clinical.
It makes not even the slightest pretense of being a work of scientific value, peppered as it is with the author’s own highly subjective interpretation of events.
The Japanese government has long been engaged in historical denial and revisionism, using as one of its methods the so-called “historical research” which serve to obfuscate the issues related to Japanese military expansionism and abuses.
Ramseyer’s paper is not a standalone incident, but rather one that fits into continuing, large-scale efforts of the Japanese political far right to rewrite history and silence the victims of sexual slavery.
The paper is an attempt to whitewash history as it overlooked extensive evidence that the “comfort women” system amounted to government-sponsored sexual slavery, not a contract between consenting parties. Groups criticized his work saying that his arguments are factually inaccurate and misleading as part of the attempts to justify atrocious human rights violations.
Lila Filipina echoed the call for the retraction of the paper since it is a work that distorts history and insults the victims of sexual violence without a shred of academic evidence.
Ramseyer’s paper is a narrative at odds with accounts from survivors of being forced into sexual slavery, peppered with insensitivity and disregard of the painful memory of the victims.
The military sexual slavery enforced by Japan is a war crime and atrocious human rights violation, as confirmed by major international and domestic institutions.
Historians have determined that there was a range of force or coercion used against comfort women wherein the violence and threats were endemic.
About 200,000 women from Korea, China, Burma, New Guinea, and the Philippines were held in captivity and many thousands more were raped as part of one of the largest operations of sexual violence in modern history.
The Women’s Tribunal that sat in Tokyo, Japan from December 8 to 12, 2000 deliberated on the criminal liability of high-ranking Japanese military and political officials, as well as the Japanese state’s responsibility for military rape and sexual slavery.
As the tribunal greatly advanced the compilation and record of historical data and evidence to support accounts on human rights abuses, it also pushed back against the assumption that sexual violence is an inevitable product of war.
The commission or avoidance of sexual violence, the tribunal concluded, is dependent on whether the armed organization choose to authorize its systematic commission in pursuit of military objectives, or effectively prohibit it.
As a result of the actions of their Japanese tormentors, the victims have spent their lives in misery, having endured physical injuries, pain and disability, and mental and emotional suffering.
Kule is the monicker of Philippine Collegian, the official student publication of UP Diliman. Atty. Dennis R. Gorecho heads the seafarers’ division of the Sapalo Velez Bundang Bulilan law offices. For comments, email [email protected], or call 09175025808 or 09088665786.
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