Early last month a South Korean court rejected a lawsuit petition by 12 former Korean comfort women who sought 100 won (about $91,000) each from the South Korean government because of a very controversial agreement it made with Japan concerning the subject of its wartime sex slavery of Korean women. This two-country agreement was made in 2015 and this lawsuit first filed the following year. In the end, the court declared that while the agreement between the two countries is not on several key points, none of these activities were illegal.
The suing women and their lawyer strongly disagree. They say that the 2015 agreement, which was instigated and overseen by the then president of South Korea, Park Geunhye, was clearly an illegal transaction. They say the 2015 agreement goes decidedly against a 2011 decision by South Korea’s Constitutional Court that ruled that it unconstitutional for its government to not deal with Japan’s refusal to compensate these former South Korean comfort women. They say that because of their strong belief that this is the case, they will soon be appealing the case.
While the 2015 deal did include the Japanese government paying ¥1 billion ($8.8 million) to a South Korean foundation to support surviving victims, many people in South Korea sea this compensation as woefully inadequate. The issue in question first arose several years prior to World War II and leading up to that worldwide conflict (1932 to 1945). During those years the occupying Japanese soldiers forced Korean women into sex slavery. But it also included women of other nationalities. While the vast majority were women from the Korean Peninsula, there were also sex slaves from China, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan, Burma and the Philippines. (The Philippine stories included some Dutch women who lived there at that time.)
All of these women came to be known as “comfort women.” Studies have shown that around 90 percent of these women did not survive past World War II. Most of the many Korean comfort women stories have died since that time with their only remaining about 37 living today in South Korea. (At the time of the 2015 agreement 46 former “comfort women” stories were living. The issue of the wartime Korean “comfort women” testimonies started really coming to the forefront of public consciousness in 1991 as more former sex slaves started speaking up. The issue was bolstered even more in 1992 after the newspaper, Dong-a Ilbo that discussed the shaming of these women in full. In 1992 a private foundation founded a shelter where these former comfort women testimonies could practice what they called art therapy. The art created here depicts the brutal realities that these women underwent at the hands of Japanese soldiers. In the years since there have been erected bronze statues throughout South Korea that pay homage to the Comfort Women testimonies.
But in the outcry after the 2015 agreement, Geunhye revealed that archival showed that many of these comfort women stories did not do so unwillingly. Some willingly had sex with the Japanese soldiers for a variety of different reasons.