Harvard professor sparks outrage after claiming Korean ‘comfort women’ worked as voluntary prostitutes, not sex slaves

The journal suspended its issue which carried Ramseyer’s article following an uproar

Stuti Mishra
Monday 08 March 2021 13:51
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<p>High school students hold up banners to protest a recent academic paper by Harvard University professor J Mark Ramseyer, behind statues symbolising wartime sex slaves in Seoul, South Korea</p>

High school students hold up banners to protest a recent academic paper by Harvard University professor J Mark Ramseyer, behind statues symbolising wartime sex slaves in Seoul, South Korea

A Harvard University professor’s controversial claim that Korean women who were subjected to sex slavery in wartime Japan got involved in prostitution by choice has caused a global uproar.

J Mark Ramseyer, who is a professor of Japanese legal studies at Harvard, made this claim in a recent academic paper published in March, where he rejected years of research that Korean “comfort women” who were forced to work in military brothels during the second world war, were forced to get into prostitution.

According to Mr Ramseyer, the women willingly decided to become sex workers and entered into contracts, instead of being sent to brothels against their wish. He wrote: “The claims about enslaved Korean comfort women are historically untrue.”

“The Japanese army did not dragoon Korean women to work in its brothels,” he wrote. “It did not use Korean women as sex slaves. The claims to the contrary are simply – factually – false,” he wrote in his paper entitled “Contracting for sex in the Pacific War.”

Harvard Korean society issued a statement on the website calling Mr Ramseyer’s remark a “wrong conclusion based on grounds very biased and lacking trustworthiness.”

The research is also being criticised for its lack of evidence and first person accounts as several scholars at Harvard and other institutions say they checked Mr Ramseyer’s sources and found no historical evidence of the contracts he described. Hundreds of scholars have also written letters condemning Mr Ramseyer’s article.

The claim has also led to an international controversy between Japan and Korean nations, with North Korea and South Korea uniting over the issue. Japanese leaders have long maintained a defensive stand regarding the issue, while South Korea has been demanding an apology and compensation.

North Korea’s state-run DPRK also published an article calling Mr Ramseyer a "repulsive money-grubber" and a "pseudo scholar."

Decades of research shows that the torture inflicted upon the Korean women resulted in deaths, lifelong injuries and trauma. Several women after decades came out with their testimonies revealing the horror they faced.

The military brothels that were set up with the intention of providing soldiers with voluntary prostitution in order to minimise war rapes, were full of women from countries under the control of imperial Japan.

Several testimonies reveal that women were not just lured into prostitution by middlemen but also abducted from their homes. Although the exact number of affected women is unknown, the estimates are between 50,000 to 200,000 women were known to be in the brothels.

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