Comfort women? Whose comfort are we talking about here?

In a region of the world where a woman’s value has been frequently assessed by her untouched state, innocence, and naivety, the forced degradation of becoming a comfort woman, the term euphemistically applied to women seized and coerced by the Japanese army from 1930 to 1945 to become sex slaves, was the ultimate debasement and dishonor. For many of those women – incapable of seeing past what they perceived as the disgrace of being so used, death was their only recourse; others, thankfully, have been capable of accurately and appropriately identifying the true owners of this deep abiding shame: those perpetrating such heinous crime in the first place.

Today, I read of an agreement reached by the South Korean and Japanese foreign ministers regarding reparations for the comfort women. An agreement created without input from those women. An agreement created based on political expediency and, probably, a desire for mutual economic benefits. An agreement disregarding the extensive pain, agony, and suffering these women underwent…and still struggle with; experiences like that do not simply go away. They leave deep trenches of ongoing torment.

One could argue, and I am quite certain many have, that this is such a minority of people that continued focus on the issue is ridiculous and that it should now be set aside, let to dissipate in the minds and memories of all.

I disagree. Fully. Unequivocally. Wholeheartedly. With all that I am or ever hope to be.

These women deserve more from all of us.

We deserve more.

Ignoring these women, allowing what is truly a paltry settlement of $8.3 million to go uncontested for what these women have suffered, and, more importantly, allowing ourselves not to pursue formal, legal apologies and reparations to these women is unconscionable. It sets a precedent that is egregiously dangerous.

Throughout the world, women are devalued and used, so are children. One could cite case after case of women and children being trafficked, used, forced into sexual slavery. It does not even have to be some drastic situation such as those described above.

High school girls and junior high school girls in Oklahoma were coerced and raped by another high school student – he utilized drugs and alcohol to effect these assaults, slipping drugs into drinks then recording his assaults and sharing the footage amongst his friends. Who was shamed and blamed initially when these assaults began to be reported? The girls.

Customarily, when a woman or girl is raped in certain countries within the world, the onus and the blame for such a thing is placed on her, not her rapists. On her. More than one young woman has killed herself from the overwhelming shame she has felt following such a thing. Some have been disowned and become pariahs, outcasts, prey to further depredations once their family has discovered what happened to them.

Comfort women? Whose comfort are we talking about here? Certainly not theirs.

December 24, 2015, the New York Times writes of a huge spending bill signed into law recently with provisions giving each of 53 hostages taken from the United States Embassy in Tehran in 1979 or their estates up to $4.4 million.

The law authorizes payments of up to $10,000 per day of captivity for each of the 53 hostages, 37 of whom are still alive. Fifty-two hostages were released on Jan. 20, 1981; a 53rd hostage had been released earlier because of illness. Spouses and children are authorized to receive a lump payment of as much as $600,000. (Herszenhorn, 2015) 

The article indicates that some of these hostages underwent psychological and physical torture during their 444 days of captivity.

Women across Asia were abducted or lured by promises of decent jobs only to end up in brothels run by the Japanese Army from 1930 to the close of World War II in 1945. Another New York Times article written December 28, 2015, addresses the settlement proffered by the Japanese government to the South Korean government to resolve the long-standing “dispute over Korean women forced to serve as sex slaves for Japan’s Imperial Army.” (Sang-hun, 2015)

Out of the tens of thousands of women historians indicate were so enslaved, 238 Korean women have come forward. Of those 238, 46 now remain alive. The settlement agreed upon by both governments for years of rape, degradation, psychological and physical torture is a grand total of $8.3 million. However, the women in question indicate what they most desire, and have not received, is Japan’s admission of legal responsibility and offer for formal reparations. They demand that Japan make official reparations for the crimes committed against them. (Sang-hun, 2015)

Mayhap, what is most insidious and disturbing about the entire negotiation process is the fact that those most concerned with its outcome, those whose lives were torn apart by the actions of that army and the decisions made by those in power in Japan at the time, were not invited to the negotiation table nor, apparently, were their stated concerns given due respectful, honorable consideration. What an immensely flawed process!

We cannot afford to ignore these women and their concerns. These women represent all women. Indeed, these women represent all of us and what happens when injustice holds sway.

We can change that dialogue.

We can make strides towards valuing women the world over.

Funny thing about that: when women become more valued, everyone benefits and becomes more valued for, whether we care to acknowledge it or not, we are all fundamentally interconnected.

Herszenhorn, D. M. (2015, December 24). Americans held hostage in Iran win compensation 36 years later. New York Times U.S. Retrieved from
Sang-hun, C. (2015, December 28).

Japan and South Korea settle dispute over wartime ‘Comfort Women’. New York Times Asia Pacific. Retrieved from  
Written by Savaja
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