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S. Korean Activist Lashes Back at Harvard Professor's Denial of Sex Slavery

#Hot Issues of the Week l 2021-02-21

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ⓒYONHAP News

A former wartime “comfort woman” has lashed back at a Harvard law professor for his denial of Japan’s wartime sex slavery. Elderly activist Lee Yong-soo in an online event Wednesday reiterated her call to Seoul and Tokyo to seek a resolution to the long-disputed issue through the International Court of Justice.



Harvard University law professor John Mark Ramseyer claimed in his latest research paper that Japanese wartime comfort women were willing prostitutes.

Titled “Contracting for sex in the Pacific War,” the thesis for the academic journal the International Review of Law and Economics offended many South Korean activists and the general public.

One of them is 92-year-old Lee Yong-soo, who previously testified at various hearings on her experience of being taken as a sex slave without her consent when she was only 16.

Speaking at a virtual seminar hosted by Harvard Asian Pacific American Law Students Association(APALSA) on Wednesday, she demanded a formal apology from Japan to the women, euphemistically dubbed “comfort women.”

However, she argued that the false claims in the research paper and ensuing controversy have ironically drawn international attention to the long-unresolved issue.


[Lee Yong-soo – 92-year old former comfort women (Korean-English translation as provided by onsite interpreter)]

“I also want to tell the students at Harvard that the recent remarks by the professor at Harvard that it was something that you should all ignore. However, I got to think that maybe, actually, it was a blessing in disguise because he made this statement and his argument about the comfort women issue, which was not progressing at all that he made this huge controversy that a lot of people became interested in it. So, I think this is kind of a wake up call… “


While a significant amount of testimonies and research discuss how the imperial Japanese military coerced and deceived women and girls into sex slavery during World War Two, Ramseyer claimed comfort women were able to negotiate and receive high wages for their work.

The elderly activist the previous day urged South Korea's Moon Jae-in administration to take the sexual slavery issue to the International Court of Justice(ICJ), saying settling the issue once and for all is her final wish.

In response to South Korean and Korean American civic groups’ call for Ramseyer’s resignation, Harvard President Lawrence Bacow reportedly said there is no problem with the paper and academic freedom should be protected.


The U.S. State Department said on Thursday that Japan's trafficking of women for sexual services during World War Two was “an egregious violation of human rights.”

The department issued the position in response to an inquiry by Yonhap News regarding Ramseyer's claims.

The department said that as the U.S. has stated many times, the trafficking of women for sexual purposes by the Japanese military during World War Two was an egregious violation of human rights.

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