Close Window

 The Comfort Women/Forced Prostitution in War

was presented in a workshop entitled

 Gender Oppression in Politics

  Plainfield, Vermont.  January 2003.

Content review 2009.

Note: The public discussion included additional material not available in this on-line version.

On 22 June 1998, The United Nations Commission of Human Rights released a Report of the Special Rapporteur on systemic rape. This report, entitled "Contemporary Forms of Slavery: Systemic rape, sexual slavery and slavery-like practices during armed conflict" was submitted by Ms. Gay L. McDougall.   I believe most rational people would think that women would have human rights if taken prisoner and forced into sexual or manual labor during war, armed conflict or rebel attack. This is not necessarily the case, though steps are now being made to extend the international court to address crimes against women. Initially, it may not seem that the issues surrounding international human rights for women during war are related to a distinct discussion about American feminism and prostitution.  However, once we delve deeper into the concepts of stopping violence towards women and increasing the rights that better the welfare and integrity of women, we see that we must be able to view the horrific realities that at times present themselves so that we can place issues dealing with sex and violence into proper perspective.  It is through acceptance of the reality of certain events that we can hopefully begin to contemplate how to work towards prevention and resolve of heinous crimes against women. There is a definite difference between consensual and non-consensual acts of prostitution, and women in either situation should have basic rights of protection.

“Point 5.  The use of sexual slavery and sexual violence as tactics and weapons of war is an all too common yet often overlooked atrocity that demands consistent and committed action on the part of the global community. Although a wide range of responses is needed, this final report focuses primarily on the development of international criminal law as a fruitful area for effective action at the national and international levels to end the cycle of impunity for slavery, including sexual slavery, and for sexual violence, including rape.  This report also advances policy and practical recommendations that may guide the investigation, prosecution and prevention of sexual slavery and sexual violence in armed conflicts.”[1]

Prior to this report, in many situations, women would be viewed as lost cattle. There were no provisions for them in the international courts; especially if raped, impregnated or violently forced into prostitution.  The concept of a female POW is a relatively new one, and women whose lives have been devastated by rape and forced prostitution during aggravated assaults have been ignored.

 During the 1980s many of the radical feminist arguments the surfaced against consensual commercial sexuality took the position the pornography and prostitution were oppressive and violent towards women.  While there are certainly situations that may clearly be degrading to an individual woman or to the feminist movement on the whole, the misuse of strong words may also be degrading to women’s betterment.   Sexual violence against women must be recognized as criminal, but at the same time violent situations that use the sex industry as a scapegoat, as with Andrea Dworkin’s claim that all pornography is synonymous with violence against women, should not be considered (in my opinion) the same as genuine acts of extreme misconduct.  I am not saying that conditions in the American sex industry are without aspects that must be bettered, but they most often are not synonymous with true oppression and violence against women.

“Point 9: The first purpose of this report is to reiterate the call for response to the use of sexual violence and sexual slavery during armed conflict.  It is imperative to acknowledge the immeasurable injury to body, mind and spirit is inflicted by these acts.  During times of peace, women are subjected to all forms of gender-based persecution, discrimination and oppression, including acts of sexual violence and slavery which often go unpunished even in functional criminal justice systems.  The horrors that women face greatly expand in number, frequency and severity during armed conflicts, and are not confined to gender-specific abuses.  However, it is clear that women do experience a significantly increased risk of violence and slavery of a sexual nature during armed conflict situations - a risk that must not be accepted or tolerated.  In addition, at the same time that abuse directed at women increase during armed conflicts, the degree of impunity with which such violence is committed may also increase.  This overall deterioration in the conditions of women in armed conflict situations is due not only to the collapse of social restraints and the general mayhem that armed conflict causes, but also in many cases is a deliberate and strategic decision on the part of combatants to intimidate and destroy “the enemy” as a whole by raping and enslaving women who are identified as members of the opposition group.

Point 10: The second purpose of this report is to emphasize the true nature and extent of the harms suffered by women who are raped, sexually abused and enslaved by parties to an armed conflict....

Point 11: The third purpose of this report is to examine prosecutorial strategies for penalizing and preventing international crimes committed against women during armed conflict....[2]

In the spring of 2002 students at Goddard College were invited to attend a video screening of “Breaking the History of Silence”, from  the Women’s International War Tribunal for the Trial of Japanese Military Sexual Slavery, held in Tokyo, December 2000..  I had not heard the term “comfort women” prior to attending the screening.  Amidst the research I'd undertaken on feminism and prostitution, the issue of comfort women seemed to take on more importance as I contemplated how to define the boundary between degradation and liberation in the American sex industry.  How is it possible to discuss contemporary views for and against the sex industry without taking into consideration situations that are without consent, without parameters, without morals, ethics or laws? 

The question of how to define feminism with respect to sexuality is an issue that has created some of the most heated debate for women over the last thirty years.  From radical 1970s feminists Gloria Steinem and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, to more recent radicals on the Right and Left such as Andrea Dworkin and Annie Sprinkle, women define their feminist pedestal with vast difference of opinion and intention. 

 This is a situation where it is nearly impossible to get lost in opposing opinions on the terminology and specific actions which degrade the integrity of feminism and female sexuality.  Unlike pornography and consensual prostitution, the plight of the Korean comfort women, and the  approximately 200,000 other South/SE Asian woman is an obvious offense.  It is a crime.  It shows how debased mankind can be, and how it degrades both men and women; it is a devastating crime against humanity, not just against the women themselves. 


Rape and forced prostitution during armed conflict and government decline does continue, for example, in Yugoslavia , Rwanda and Moldova .  After explaining the history of the comfort women, I will discuss the tribunals that have begun, and how the Special Rapporteur on systematic rape connects the past with the present in an effort to change international laws to prevent sexual slavery and torture from continuing, and going unpunished.  

There is a beauty to being able to choose what one does that we can not appreciate, not until we embrace what a lack of choice may create and continue in silent legacy. Consensual sexual labor and sexual slavery, as some radical feminists claim, simply are not the same.


“I had never heard of the comfort women until the fiftieth anniversary of Pearl Harbor, in December 1991.  Some Korean women, who were taking the Japanese government to court, made the front pages of the international press.  The Japanese government flatly denied any knowledge or involvement, and argued that the so-called comfort women were privately organized camp followers.  Was this a lie?”

George Hicks,

The Comfort Women.[3]


“Point 6: One significant impetus for the Sub-commissions decision to commission this study was the increasing international recognition of the true scope and character of the harms perpetrated against the more then 200,000 women enslaved by the Japanese military in “comfort stations” during the Second World War.  Recognizing the needs to address past, unremedied human rights, humanitarian law and international criminal law violations involving sexual slavery and sexual violence, a full analysis of the continuing legal liability for these crimes against humanity is contained in the appendix to the present reports.”[4]

The first edition of Mr. Hicks’ book, The Comfort Women, was published in 1994.  The first American edition was published in 1995.  What is so amazing about his need to answer the question of whether or not the comfort women were a lie is that these women were going to court over crimes that took place during the Second World War, and much of the information about these women was destroyed by the Japanese military, and also the Allies.  Enough existed, however, to fully answer the question.  It was not a lie.


It is amazing that it has taken over fifty years for the comfort women to become an issue of concern.  Young women abducted or misguided away from their homes at the outbreak, and through the duration, of war; forced into sexual slavery to serve the troops.  The average age was 17-25, but there are accounts of young girls in their pre teens also being brought into camps.  Either aggressively removed from their households after being raped in front of their families, or offered fraudulent work in non-existent factories and restaurants thousands of miles from their homes, during World War II somewhere up to 200,000 women were placed into forced prostitution.  The lives of the Korean, and South East Asian women forced into prostitution as comfort women, were ruined well after many people healthily recovered from the war.  These women were considered outcasts, carrying emotional and intellectual scars, as well as in some cases, physical ailments, as a direct result of their experiences.  This prevented them from integrating into post war reconstruction, and many wound up on welfare and in disgrace. In Korean culture virginity, purity and chaste had much to do with a women’s ability to marry well, and therefore be a part of a normal, stable financial environment. After decades of silence, it has been a battle as difficult as that fought in the front-lines to get governments to recognize that these are actual crimes, not only against women, but against humanity in general. 


The first writing on comfort women by Senda Kako was published thirty years before the tribunals would begin.  It would take decades for hot lines to be set up across Tokyo, Kyoto, Osaka and South Korean in an effort to get women to come forward and offer their stories.  The evolution and international expansion of feminism created organized women’s groups in the 1980s.  These women’s groups would research and document the authenticity of a “large-scale, officially-organized system of rape by the Imperial Japanese Forces.  Thousands of women, from young village girls to older professionals, an estimated 80 percent of them Korean, were part of a comfort system across Asia.” [5]


The term “comfort women” and “comfort system” was used to describe the women who gave  “comfort” to the troops.  In some early texts they are referred to as ‘P’ women.  In Japanese, it was explained, there is a word beginning with the letter ‘P’ that is similar to “poontang”, but which has a stronger and more vulgar sentiment towards a women’s vagina.  It would mean ‘dirty cunt’.  Because this slang was not appealing to the military men these women served, “comfort women” was chosen as it kept the morale of the troops in high regard.  These were secret government created brothels.  Documents on the stations were created with those maintaining workers supplies, and the term “comfort station” had official and ambiguous understanding.

In 1994 Japanese scholars asked the government to allow education of the “atrocities committed” during Japan ’s colonial rule in Korea from 1910-1945.  Prior to this time, such information was banned from all educational texts and studies. It is still difficult to obtain.

Japan ;  Empire of the Sun.  At the time of World War II, Japan was a dominant power claiming Ryukyu and the Bonin Islands, The Pacific Islands, Rabaul, the Philippines , Singapore and Malaysia , Burma and Indonesia .  Japan had accepted a system of prostitution.  Feudal Japanese had open prostitution in Kyoto, Osaka and Tokyo.  The Floating City of mid 18th century Edo ( Tokyo) was glamorized by artists and writers, the wealth of erotic literature and art disguised the slave like conditions in which the women worked.”[6]   Geisha, the most well known form of professional sexuality, were different from prostitutes in that they underwent immense and extreme training as “musicians and genteel performers”.  Prostitutes merely had sex, where as Geisha formed many long term relationships with caliber clientele.

 In 1872 Japan prohibited bondage, but allowed prostitution under a system of voluntary contract. Many families loaned out their female children into prostitution to pay debts, and often a female child would be given out on contract for a number of years.  This was an accepted system, and in pre-war Japan , prostitution was state organized, and women were licensed, along with being subjected to mandatory medical inspection.  This was not considered a permanent degradation to a female or her family, as women of lower class would not be considered for marriage within a higher caste in a normal scenario anyway. In the late 19th century and at the beginning of the 20th century, there were also women known as karayuki.  These women were professional prostitutes who traveled all over Asia as specialized call girls.

 In 1904 Korea came under Japanese influence.  The Japanese, accustomed to state ruled prostitution, attempted to create a sex zone in Seoul.  This was received with mixed reactions by the Koreans. In 1910, when complete colonization of Korea was fulfilled, licensed prostitution was formally introduced in Korea .  The systematic exploitation of Korean women as comfort women for the Japanese Imperial military would last from approximately 1931 - 1945.

The Japanese had interesting superstitions pertaining to sex and war.  It was believed by many that sex before battle worked as a talisman against injury, and some soldiers would even carry amulets with the pubic hair of comfort women.  It was also believed that sexual deprivation made soldiers accident prone.  To most, the use of women as sexual slaves was completely justifiable and without guilt, nor remorse. This kind of gender ethnocentricity was so common, it was even considered to be the only salvation against the brutality of war.

To soldiers on the front line, ever surrounded by the sound of guns, wrapped in smoke stinking of death and not knowing when death would come, a visit to a comfort station was no doubt the only form of relief.  It was the only kind of individual act in which one was “liberated”.  Theirs was a prison-like existence, subject to random, arbitrary punishments by mad dogs of NCO’s, their eardrums daily ringing from blows.  The comfort station was where they were at least temporarily “liberated” from the savagery of the unit.  It was their “oasis”.[7]

           Initially, military controlled comfort stations were believed to minimize venereal disease, which ravished many troops in the past.  A good example of this is detailed when, through 1918-1922, the Japanese took part in the Siberian Intervention initiated by Western powers.  One division in seven was infected and dismantled due to venereal disease acquired while raping women of the opposition.  Between 1937-1939, the health of the soldiers became a priority to commanding forces, and established “stations” were organized to provide sexual services for the troops under medical scrutiny and government control.

          What led to the Japanese being able to set up these comfort stations, in which an estimated 200,000 women were repeatedly raped by the soldiers on the front lines during war?  In the 1930s there was horrible financial depression throughout Asia and China .  The Japanese seized Chinese Manchuria, leading to aggressive iniatives by the Japanese Kwantung Army.  Manchuria became Manchuko, and prostitution flourished.  It was a vibrant area that attracted many women, including Koreans.  Initially, women made money with a profit, and were able to save.  The Japanese were pleased with how well the soldiers responded to immediate sexual offerings, and set up a plan to have places of release in all areas of fighting and in garrison territories.

          Though women were brought into the comfort stations via many various coercions, the saddest and most extreme were outlined in a 1983 book entitled, My War Crimes: The Forced Draft of Koreans.  The author, Yoshida Seija, was himself a slave raider.  From 1942 until the end of the war, Mr. Seija was responsible for violent raids on civilian villages which led to thousands of men being put into forced labor, and a thousand or so women abducted for comfort duties.  It was due to confessions of this kind that many women’s stories were able to be confirmed.

          In 1948, however, there was one tribunal pertaining to sexual slavery.  The case confirmed forcible seizure for rape and prostitution which led to admission of war crimes.  The women involved were Dutch, and though Indonesian women were also present, only the Dutch were represented during the Batavia tribunal.  It is now acknowledged that cultural bias (the same as our white to black bias before the civil rights movement) allowed the South East Asian women to be left out of the tribunal.

          The Batavia Military Tribunal of 1948 involved female internees from the Netherlands stationed in central Java.  An officer cadet school at Semarang, commanded by Lt. Gen. Nozaki Seiji began an investigation into how to resolve venereal disease.  It was established that comfort women would be a wise investment for the cadets, and also officers, and that it would be preferable to use European women from near by internment camps.  The selection process would consist of female volunteers.  Gen. Nozaki approved a plan proposed by Col. Okubo, and gave his permission for the operation to be arranged.  Okuba was told that verbal permission was adequate, and during a visit to Jakarta he obtained agreement from the Chief of Staff. All in all there would be four to five stations, one of which would be entirely for the cadets, while the others would be for higher ranking officers.  The details after this point were left to a captain, and a grouping of select individuals beneath him who would work as managers at the stations.  In February of 1944, the captain’s recruiters went to four camps in Semarang, and two in Ambarawa. Women between 17 and 28 were registered; their names, homeland, marital status, number of children and health status were recorded.   What began as a suggested voluntary proposal, ended when nine women were forcibly sent out to comfort stations after being forced to sign a “Declaration of Willingness” in March of 1944.

 “Two attempted escape, one of whom, who was recaptured and tortured, committed suicide by slashing herself.  Another attempted suicide by drinking quinine.  Another of the women described how, on arrival at the Futabaso, she was immediately taken into a room by a drunken officer who eventually raped her.  He was followed by five others.  The pattern was repeated each day in the nauseating surroundings of a house without ventilation or drainage.  She finally suffered a nervous breakdown and was admitted to a mental hospital.” [8]

 Soon, over 100 local women (Indian, Chinese and Indonesian) were seized and forced into the comfort stations.  Many of these were very young women. 

The release of the Dutch women came about through the transfer of internment camps from the Home Ministry to the Army in April of 1944.  Due to the length of time necessary for the discussion, I will not go into the details of how their release came to be here, but - in conclusion - most of the women were transferred to Kota Paris in Western Java.  Along with them were many, many comfort women from other parts of Java, including Bangdung.  At the tribunal only the less than one half dozen Dutch women, out of numerous local women, were represented as being victims of a war crime.  There would be no other tribunal, or acknowledgment of the ravages the women endured, until the Tribunal in Tokyo, December 2000.

I feel that without going into much further detail, the definition of comfort women has been confirmed. Young women primarily from Korea, and also China, Taiwan, East Timor, Indonesia, the Dutch East Indies were misled by false promises of legitimate work or forcibly stolen from their homes and villages, and put into military controlled stations where they would be forced to service between five and fifty military men per day, round the clock at little or no pay. (There were some established Japanese prostitutes, but they were a minority and not as desired as the younger and healthier foreign females.)  Only two percent or so of comfort women were paid, and able to save their money for after the war.


Most were left with nothing; literally nothing.  Beyond being impoverished, many were unable to bear children after their enslavement due to the amount of unprotected and aggressive sex they were forced to endure. Between venereal disease, interrupted pregnancies without proper medical supervision and rape, they were unable to bear children, and therefore many were never able to integrate into post war society. The average comfort women wound up on welfare, leading a life of poverty and alienation.  Of course, not all of the women ended up in such an extreme and saddening plight.  Some were married, and were able to find financial security.  Most, though, were left behind in the lower classes, especially as they aged.


To clarify, most comfort women were Korean.  The Japanese needed their own women to maintain factories and fields, but this selection process was also due to the fact that it was felt many soldiers would be uncomfortable using women they might identify with their sisters or  girlfriends. Though there were some professional prostitutes of Japanese heritage at the stations, they were not liked as well as the Korean women because they were older and more jaded.   Korean teenagers and young adults between the ages of 15 and 23 were considered prime, though at the beginning of the war many female children aged even 10 and 11 were captured.  By mid war, women up to 27 or so were considered acceptable. Korean women were easily utilized by the Japanese because they were considered culturally similar, but beneath the Japanese in stature in class. Besides Korean females there were also Malaysian, Indonesia , Thai, Burmese and numerous other women from throughout S.E. Asia utilized in the comfort stations.

One of the reasons that their plight was difficult to prove was because when the American Allied Forces came in, many of the comfort women were made quickly into nurses, and the evidence destroyed.  Though, some women were turned over to the Allied forces, where they became prostitutes to service the American military men.

There were also practices of Gyokusai, meaning “broken jewel”, which is when Japanese soldiers fight to the death instead of surrender, or when defeated soldiers commit mass suicide. The term kamikaze is familiar to most Americans, but there were many different kinds of suicide squads. Many comfort women were murdered in this form of ritual annihilation, mainly in Northern Burma and Micronesia.

In four pages explaining the very end of the war, it is graphically described how comfort women were shot down, had hand grenades thrown into their beds and were annihilated by the troops they served.  Many of those that were not murdered  or forced into suicide with defeated troops, chose suicide with each other, such as in Saipan in the Mariana, where an entire “female population” of Korean  comfort women all drowned themselves as opposed to be taken POW at the hands of the “enemy”.

 One in-depth description of a comfort station being silenced stayed with me after I stopped reading the book.  I imagine all the nights they prayed to see their families again, when in the end, they would live eternally as slaves, and die forgotten and nameless. 

“... [The soldier] directed sweeping automatic fire at random into the pitch-dark interior of the dugout.  Mingling with the ferocious, deafening reverberations of gunfire were bursts of shrill screams, followed by low moans, until the ensign eased the trigger to end his insane shooting rampage.  Within the desolate dugout, the literal silence of death hovered like a frozen pall.  He used his torch to examine the results.  There were about seventy bodies. Spurts of blood were sticking to the bare earthen walls like geckos; some of the women were clinging to the rough-hewn breadfruit tree supports with their necks snapped; some were heaped up, some were embracing each other, some had fallen like twigs, all drenched in blood.”[9]

Though some of the reports show that comfort women and their captors befriended each other despite the harsh conditions of war, most of the women interviewed at the end of the century would repeat the same echoes of hatred towards all men, even young male children.  Those that survived lived lives filled with secret pain, hatred, shame, emptiness and ruin.  Few accounts of comfort women revealed any happiness from the day they were captured or lured away from their homes.

“Point 12: ...  At the time of writing this report, the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia has issued numerous indictments charging crimes based on sexual violence, and the International Tribunal for Rwanda is under increasing pressure to step up its investigation and prosecutions of sexual violence.  In the very period of time during which this report was commissioned and completed, great strides have been made to address gender-based violence in armed conflict not only in the context of the ad hoc international criminal tribunals, but also with respect to the proposed permanent International Criminal Court.  This study, therefore, is offered at a particularly timely juncture in the development of international criminal law and it’s intended to advance ongoing discussions over proper venues rules and procedures that may usefully advance prosecutions of sexual violence and slavery by domestic courts.”[10]

To show that this type of barbaric behavior is not an act of the past, I would like to bring us into the present with a radio spot from: Voices of Our World which aired August, 2001.  Global radio programming from the Missionaries of Mary Knol tells us of atrocities against women. These are still not considered atrocities against mankind.  Gender discrimination and violence against women are issues which are being fought through education programs offered by the United Nations and UNICEF.  Gender discrimination does not begin to bring into the mind of a listener, or reader, what kind of heinous crimes are being discussed on the program.  From women who are slowly killed for having an “illicit” affair, to women who threw themselves on the husband’s funeral pyre due to the stigma and financial consequence of becoming a widow, to impoverished parents trading small female children into prostitution to feed the rest of the family, to young prostitutes (aged 7 - 13) working in the Netherlands with HIV, tuberculosis, jaundice, venereal disease and experiencing multiple pregnancies.  Next we are in Sierra Leone .  An 18 year old girl is abducted from her home by the rebel army.  “Cynthia” is beaten, raped, forced to carry supplies and weapons for the men of the army.  She is then forced to “serve as a wife” to her captors, cleaning and cooking for the enemy.  Her mother must find money for the ransom.  By the time she is returned, she is two months pregnant.

Young girls are kidnapped, drugged, raped, and even forced to commit acts of extreme violence on their own villagers as a scare tactic. Rape and sexual assault are integral to the rebel’s strategy.  United Nations radio worked with numerous women’s rights organizations and counselors to prepare and confirm information on the war crimes against women in Sierra Leone .  Activists and counselors who worked with female victims in Bosnia / Yugoslavia were disgusted and horrified by the sexual torture committed against young women in Sierra Leone .  Young girls and women had hot oil poured inside of their vaginas, hot coals forced between their legs, and they were raped aggressively with sticks until hemorrhaging, and dying from internal bleeding.  Homes were burnt down, arms and legs of family members cut off; young women were gang raped in public.  When in the hands of the rebels, many young women were forced to partake in these acts of violence or suffer more torture.

Doctors Without Borders confirmed reports of numerous accounts of such severe injury and trauma.  It is believed that the trauma from these events will stay with the women for their whole lives, maybe even for generations later.  Long after the visual effects of war are gone, the women victimized will live with scars on their bodies, minds, emotions, and psyches.  The Forum of African Women Educationalists provides counsel, support and free medical assistance to rape victims.  Their society, though, does not embrace them as readily as activists and volunteers.  As with the comfort women of Korea , after the victims are sexual violence of war are able to return home from a state of enslavement, most of the women are no longer welcomed; they have been defiled and are disrespected, mistrusted and permanently shunned.


In July of 1992, the Japanese committee first published a report entitled, “Results of Investigation into the Question of ‘Military Comfort Women’ Originating from the Korean Peninsula”.  This report addressed, not just Korean women, but women of many nationalities.


Utilizing 127 documents to support its position of acceptance, the committee confirmed as reality:   

1. Establishment of comfort stations.

2.  Control of persons recruiting women.

3.  Construction and extension of comfort facilities.

4.  Management and supervision of comfort stations.

5.  Hygiene control of comfort stations and comfort women.

6.  Issue of identity cards and the like to persons connected with comfort stations.

7.  General references to comfort stations and comfort women.


An apology was also issued.  There was, however, an absence of documents which explained how the comfort women were recruited.  This is a major point of dispute, because many in the Japanese government would like to be able to acknowledge the comfort stations, but only under the terms that the women went to them voluntarily, where as most of the women who testified stated that they were either misled by agents who scouted young women for false employment, or that they were forcibly abducted.

At this point in time, debate is still being waged over retribution.  It is said that for every ten women who speaks publicly, they represent over twenty thousand women, many of whom are now dead.  It is desired by feminist activists that retribution come to those who are still alive, during their lifetime.  It is unknown whether or not that will happen.

Also recent was the 22 June 1998 U. N. Economic and Social Counsel’s Commission on Human Rights;   A Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.  The following agenda was, in part, established due to the issue of the Korean comfort women.  Without the pressure put on to the Korean and Japanese governments, along with requests for explanation from the American government and the increasing number of women throughout Asia found to be involved with the World War two comfort stations, the agenda mentioned here would not have been contemplated.

“Point 13: As has been noted by many international legal commentators, the development of international law, including international humanitarian, human rights and criminal law, was based on the paradigm of male’s lives, particularly the lives of men in the public sphere. [For a discussion, see Hilary Charlesworth, Christine Chjinkin and Shelley Wright, “Feminist Approaches to International Law”, America Journal of International Law, vol. 85, 1991.] The failure to consider the experience of women resulted in a human rights legal framework which failed to recognize forms of violence directed against women as worthy of International State accountability. ...”[11]

 In an essay which appeared in Prostitution: On Whores, Hustlers and Johns, Masumi Yoneda discusses the Prostitution Prevention Law of Japan.  PPL was enacted in 1956, and has been in effect since 1958.  It is the first time in Japanese history that prostitution was banned.[12]

This law was imposed when the Japanese surrendered to the Allied Forces. As cited in a reference on global sex work, “ Japan abolished licensed prostitution after the war, in 1946.  The order to abolish the system came from the occupation forces.  The order says that maintaining licensed prostitution would go against the ideal of democracy, and that it would be incompatible with the development of individual freedom within the nation.”[13]   

There are many contradictions here.  For instance, the American government was involved in initially covering up the black market comfort women, yet they forced Japan to retract its system of licensed prostitution.  What is also sad, is that the comfort women are not mentioned in either of these sources I just cited, though the probably had strong influence in the making of this law. One of the upsets that global activists have on behalf of the comfort women is that mention of them is forbidden in most academic texts and historic accounts of the war.

 A fact that we should all find ironic is that in present day Japan, though licensed prostitution is illegal, there is a huge black market underground that deals with preteens, teenagers and women.  To strengthen this irony, many women now travel from poor North East and South East Asian regions to work illegally as prostitutes and hostesses in Japan , because of its evolved financial status.  These women have no rights, work in often abhorrent conditions and are considered by many to be indentured servants.  The laws that were created after World War II were not created for pure humanitarian intent, nor the betterment of women’s financial and civil rights, and therefore has many short comings that global feminist activists, inspired by the American Women’s Rights movement of the late 1960s and early 1970s, are fighting to have brought into view.

This essay is part of a broader work entitled,

XXX:  A Cultural Exploration into Contemporary Feminism’s Relationship with Commercial Sexuality

“XXX” is available --- with written consent by the author --- through Goddard College

[1] Economic and Social Council.  Commission on Human Rights.  Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.  Fiftieth session.  Item 6 of the provisional agenda.  CONTEMPORARY FORMS OF SLAVERY. Systemic rape, sexual slavery and slavery-like practices during armed conflict. McDougall, Gay Ms., Special Rapporteur.  22 June 1998.

[2] Ibid.

[3]The Comfort Women: Japan ’s Brutal Regime of Forced Prostitution in the Second World War. Hicks, George L. (NYC / London. W.W. Norton. 1995-97.)

[4]  Economic and Social Council.  Commission on Human Rights.  Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.  Fiftieth session.  Item 6 of the provisional agenda.  CONTEMPORARY FORMS OF SLAVERY. Systemic rape, sexual slavery and slavery-like practices during armed conflict. McDougall, Gay Ms., Special Rapporteur.  22 June 1998.


[5].The Comfort Women: Japan ’s Brutal Regime of Forced Prostitution in the Second World War. Hicks, George L. (NYC / London. W.W. Norton. 1995-97.)


[6] Ibid. P. 27.


[7]Kim II Myon.  The Emperor’s Forces and Korean Comfort Women.


[8]Hicks, George L.  The Comfort Women: Japan ’s Brutal Regime of Forced Prostitution in the Second World War.  (NYC / London W.W. Norton. 1995-97.)


[9]Kim II Myon 76


[10]   Economic and Social Council.  Commission on Human Rights.  Sub-Commission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities.  Fiftieth session.  Item 6 of the provisional agenda.  CONTEMPORARY FORMS OF SLAVERY. Systemic rape, sexual slavery and slavery-like practices during armed conflict. McDougall, Gay Ms., Special Rapporteur.  22 June 1998.



[12]1. Elias, John. Ed.  Prostitution: On Whores, Hustlers and Johns.  The Prostitution Prevention Law”. Yoneda, Masumi.  ( Amherst, New York. Prometheus Books. 1998. P. 488.)

 [13]Group Sisterhood: Junkio Kuninobu, Rie Okamura, Natsumi Takeuchi, Mari Yamamoto, Masumi Yoneda and Midori Wada. ( New York & London. Routledge Press.  1998. P. 87-97. )