Recovering memory and historical revisionism in sex work might be the sad product of many repressive regimes. What becomes worse is the complicity of academic institutions in white-washing crimes against humanity.
Harvard is no stranger to items like Alan (buddy of Jeff Epstein) Dershowitz’s attempt to move the statutory rape threshold, as if the act of procurement was a contract no different than other commodities and services emblematic of methodological individualism.
In that rubric, sex workers exhibit individual agency without any institutional structures. The extrapolation to human trafficking as legally bad decisions in a bio-political supply chain. Too bad if waiting for the rising tide, one’s smuggler boat sinks, everyone’s a free agent in a libertarian world and somehow individual social contracts can’t be aggregated. The core problem to be confronted by some is whether sex work is work, as though there were unnecessary labors that are yet economically productive.
…Ricardo Jose would not comment on a recent piece by Harvard law professor Mark Ramseyer that has caused controversy in South Korea by arguing that “comfort women” were actually willing, paid prostitutes contracted by private recruiters and were not forced to work in Japan’s military brothels.Randy David, professor emeritus of sociology at the University of the Philippines, recalled there were two types of “comfort women” in the country. “Karayuki” were brought in from abroad to become “sex slaves … to satisfy the sexual needs of Japanese soldiers”. The other type “were rounded up in their communities against their will, kept as sex slaves, they were not paid”.
Jose said he knew the late American historian Grant Goodman who broke the story in the early 1990s about the presence of Japanese army-instituted brothels in Manila. Goodman was a translator for the US army assigned to the Philippines in 1945. The translated Japanese documents survived because Goodman had mailed a copy to his home in the US.One of the documents translated by Goodman revealed that in Manila alone, the Japanese military kept 17 “comfort stations” staffed by 1,064 comfort women for exclusive use of soldiers, plus four officers “clubs” with over 120 women.Another document, quoting a captured brothel owner, stated: “Every ‘comfort girl’ was employed with the following contract conditions … When a girl is able to repay the sum of money paid to her family, plus interest, she should be provided with a free return passage to Korea, and then considered free.”
In the early 1990s, the Japanese government issued a series of apologies on the “comfort women” issue after historian Yoshimi Yoshiaki found a document titled “Regarding the Recruitment of Women for Military Brothels” in the library of the Self-Defence Agency.But this official stance was dramatically reversed in 2007 when Abe said no evidence existed that the military had kept sex slaves.
This discourse resembles the Time on the Cross counterfactual history that profitability trumped institutions in US slavery. Plantations represented ‘credible commitments’ of masters to slaves as productive enterprises condoned by Confederate states worth rationalizing because of surplus value accumulation. Who give reparations to the slaveowners.
Is not indentured contracting also wage-slavery regardless of commodity exchanged. Rankean history is not always purely empirical, as Ramseyer in an op-ed, sets terms at which sex work is acceptable and hence rational because their contracts were superior in Korea to those in China and Southeast Asia, and the villains are Korean interests using the narrative for mercenary purposes. Darn those free markets.
But the claims about enslaved Korean comfort women are historically untrue. The Japanese army did not dragoon Korean women to work in its brothels. It did not use Korean women as sex slaves. The claims to the contrary are simply ー factually ー false.”
– J. Mark Ramseyer
The International Review of Law and Economics will temporarily delay print publication of Harvard Law professor J. Mark Ramseyer’s controversial paper claiming sex slaves in Imperial Japan, known as “comfort women,” were voluntarily employed, the journal told The Crimson Friday.
The journal initially issued an “Expression of Concern” earlier this week in response to mounting backlash, announcing that concerns over the article’s “historical evidence” are currently under investigation.
“Comfort women” is a term used to refer to women and girls from Japan’s occupied territories, including Korea, who were forced into sex slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army before and during World War II.
Against the historical consensus, Ramseyer claims in his paper, entitled “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War,” that comfort women were not coerced and instead voluntarily entered into contracts with Japanese brothels. His article stoked public outcry across South Korea after his abstract was re-printed in late January in the nationalist Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun.
Since, students and scholars at Harvard and beyond criticized his paper as lacking historical context and evidence.
Multiple individuals and groups have penned open letters and petitions, totalling at least 10,000 signatures, demanding various responses from the journal, Ramseyer, and Harvard. Some argued the article should be withdrawn from publication, while others advocated disciplinary action against Ramseyer.
The revisionist history would have sex workers exist in a gig economy with no coercion even with the State/military as proxy-pimp. Even the John Lott argument of More Guns Less Crime would not have protected them. Because prostitution is a victimless crime?
Reducing the sex trafficking transaction to a individualized contract makes the reality different. A critical reality would allow for further articulation of the argument. If anything the establishment of axis brothels like those established by Germany (Militärbordelle) should demonstrate how imperial and fascist biopolitical regimes would reproduce repressive contracts.
The protracted political dispute between South Korea and Japan over the wartime brothels called “comfort stations” obscures the contractual dynamics involved. These dynamics reflected the straightforward logic of the “credible commitments” so basic to elementary game theory. The brothel owners and potential prostitutes faced a problem: the brothel needed credibly to commit to a contractual structure
(i) generous enough to offset the dangers and reputational damage to the prostitute that the job entailed, while
(ii) giving the prostitute an incentive to exert effort while working at a harsh job in an unobservable environment.
Realizing that the brothel owners had an incentive to exaggerate their future earnings, the women demanded a large portion of their pay upfront. Realizing that they were headed to the war zone, they demanded a relatively short maximum term. And realizing that the women had an incentive to shirk, the brothel owners demanded a contractual structure that gave women incentives to work hard. To satisfy these superficially contradictory demands, the women and brothels concluded indenture contracts that coupled (i) a large advance with one- or two-year maximum terms, with (ii) an ability for the women to leave early if they generated sufficient revenue.International Review of Law and Economics Volume 65, March 2021, 105971
(2019) “Comfort Women and the Professors,” Discussion paper Number 995, Harvard John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics, and Business, March 2019.
Abstract: We in the West have embraced an odd “narrative.” The Japanese army of the1930s and 1940s, we write, forcibly drafted 200,000 mostly Korean teenage girls into “rape camps” called “comfort stations.” Should anyone question the story, we summarily consign the person to “denier” status. This makes for a strange phenomenon. Only a few of the comfort women claim to have been forcibly recruited, and several of them had told a different story before the reparations campaign against Japan began. A strongly leftist affiliate runs their nursing home, controls whom they can see, and vilifies any woman who might say anything else. In fact, no one has ever located any documentary evidence that the Japanese military forcibly recruited any Korean woman into a comfort station. And when Korean academics question the orthodox account, their own government sometimes prosecutes them for criminal defamation — indeed, sent one heterodox professor last fall to six months in prison.
Toward that end — not toward charity but toward maintaining a more deadly military force– the military imported the standard Japanese and Korean licensing system. Brothels and prostitutes registered with it. Designated physicians conducted weekly medical examinations. Brothels required condoms, and prostitutes were told to refuse clients who balked. Both clients and prostitutes were to wash with disinfectant after every encounter. Brothel owners (not the military) hired the bulk of the new prostitutes, and hired most of them from Japan and Korea. They recruited them (i.e., the women from Japan and Korea; most scholars agree that the military did forcibly recruit women in enemy territories like China) under indenture contracts that coupled a large advance with one or two year terms. Until the later years of the war, women served their terms or paid off their debts early, and returned home. These facts (as more fully explained below) make for a boring story. But it is the account that the evidence supports. Documentary evidence for the “sex slave” narrative more popular in the West simply does not exist. 1 This eminently boring story is the account that virtually all Japanese historians (both left and right — this is emphatically not a “right-wing” story) endorse. And it is the account that many Korean historians would publicly endorse too — were it not for the domestic Korean politics I detail below.
Darn those victims’ accounts. The “crucial historical context” that Korea was under Japanese imperial rule at the time is no different than the Phillippines under military conquest and occupation. Colonial settler rules of political economy apply especially under imperial appropriation.
Harvard Prof Rejects Historical Consensus on ‘Comfort Women’Law professor is accused of ignoring extensive historical evidence in claiming that the “comfort women” were not sex slaves but instead were willing and well-compensated prostitutes.
Elizabeth Redden, author
A substantial body of scholarship exists exploring the ways in which the imperial Japanese military forced or coerced women and girls into an organized system of sexual slavery to service Japanese soldiers before and during World War II. Control over the historical narrative regarding the euphemistically named “comfort women,” most of whom were Korean, remains an issue of contention between the governments of Japan and South Korea, as conservative Japanese politicians have embarked in recent years on efforts to deny state responsibility and rewrite textbooks.Enter into this politicized arena J. Mark Ramseyer, the Mitsubishi Professor of Japanese Legal Studies at Harvard Law School, who wrote an op-ed in a Japanese newspaper describing the “comfort-women-sex-slave story” as “pure fiction.” He also published an article in an academic journal, the International Review of Law and Economics, characterizing the comfort women as prostitutes, in effect rational economic actors who were able to negotiate and command high wages for their sexual labors.“Together,” Ramseyer concludes the journal article, “the women and brothels concluded indenture contracts that coupled a large advance with one or two year terms. Until the last months of the war, the women served their terms or paid off their debts early, and returned home.” Ramseyer's claims, bearing as they do the Harvard imprimatur, have become the subject of an international controversy. Scholars have cried foul, accusing Ramseyer of overlooking extensive evidence that the “comfort women” system amounted to government-sponsored sexual slavery, not a contract between consenting parties.
The journal has appended an expression of concern to the online version of Ramseyer's article, which is titled “Contracting for sex in the Pacific War.” A spokesman for Elsevier, the academic publisher, said the journal is also delaying publication of the forthcoming print issue containing the article to allow for printing of responses in the same issue.[…]
“The article was originally published online on 1 December, 2020,” Davis added. “Although not printed, it is already assigned to the March issue (Volume 65) of the journal and is considered final. The print issue is being temporarily held so the expression of concern, and comments/replies, can be published in the same issue as the original article to give readers access to the fullest possible picture.”Ramseyer declined an interview request, saying he is “in the process of putting together a package of materials relevant to the controversy.”
Alexis Dudden, a history professor at the University of Connecticut who said she’d been solicited to write a rebuttal to Ramseyer’s article, described his article as “academic fraud” analogous to Holocaust denialism.
“There has been so much scholarship produced in the 30 years since the first survivor came forward and it’s almost as if Professor Ramseyer's decision is to just ignore all of the debate — as if he’s the first person to come into this — and give a withering condemnation of all opinions different from his as lies,” said Dudden, an expert on modern Japanese and Korean history.
“To say, ‘well, the Koreans were in it for the money’ — which for me would be the tagline for what the Ramseyer article is saying — is just a dog whistle to a political ideology in Japan that is powerful,” Dudden added. “So many who would drag us back to the 1990s are standing up, saying a Harvard professor said, ‘This is all a lie. These are prostitutes and they made money and they could go home if they wanted to.’ That’s not scholarship.”
Numerous law societies at Ramseyer’s institution, Harvard, have also issued a statement condemning the article and the op-ed, describing his characterization of the established comfort women narrative as “pure fiction” as “a revisionist claim that is recycled time and time again by neonationalist figures.”
“Professor Ramseyer’s arguments are factually inaccurate and misleading,” reads the statement from the Korean Association of Harvard Law School and nine other groups. “Without any convincing evidence, Professor Ramseyer argues that no government 'forced women into prostitution,' a contention he also makes in his editorial. Decades’ worth of Korean scholarship, primary sources, and third-party reports challenge this characterization. None are mentioned, cited, or considered in his arguments.”[…]
“Ramseyer recognizes the women were not free to walk away until they fulfilled the ‘obligation’ to have sex with thousands. In other words there was no possibility to breach the ‘employment contract’ as there would be [in] a just contract system. That is the definition of slavery,” Gersen wrote.
“Therefore by his own logic, contract analysis is wrong analytically, apart from a question of moral outrageousness. His use of contract smuggles in agency but historical evidence from responsible scholars has indicated the agency normally associated w/ contract didn’t exist.”
Alexis Dudden: One of the primary reasons for studying any state-sponsored atrocity in the past is to learn how it happened in order to try to prevent ongoing occurrences of similar violence and not to abuse history by weaponizing it for present purposes. Academic freedom is a core tenet of constitutional democracies, yet academic lies are not. The words we use to write law and history appear intelligible to specialist and non-specialist alike. Looked at differently, were Professor Ramseyer’s article to have been published in Nature it would be demonstrated for their reproducible experiment it is. The challenge remains to expand education about this crime against humanity so that undetected denialist racialist claims never again pass for scholarly inquiry. chwe.net/…
More interesting for Ramseyer could be the motivations for such research considering his Mitsubishi corporation endowed chair or internal faculty politics, as well as the rightward turn of Japanese politics. He may have put himself into what game theory calls a grim-trigger of permanent approbation, especially since other Asian autocratic studies suggest that there is a correlation among institutional commitments, placing churches closer to police stations. Darn those overlapping ideological state apparatuses.
Military brothels (German : Militärbordelle) were set up by Nazi Germany during World War II throughout much of occupied Europe for the use of Wehrmacht and SS soldiers.  These brothels were generally new creations, but in the West, they were sometimes set up using existing brothels as well as many other buildings. Until 1942, there were around 500 military brothels of this kind in German-occupied Europe.  Often operating in confiscated hotels and guarded by the Wehrmacht, these facilities served travelling soldiers and those withdrawn from the front.   According to records, at least 34,140 European women were forced to serve as prostitutes during the German occupation of their own countries along with female prisoners of concentration camp brothels.  In many cases in Eastern Europe, teenage girls and women were kidnapped on the streets of occupied cities during German military and police round ups called łapanka or rafle.   
“Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War,” International Journal of Law and Economics, December 2020.
“Comfort Women and the Professors,” Discussion paper Number 995, Harvard John M. Olin Center for Law, Economics, and Business, March 2019.
“Indentured Prostitution in Imperial Japan: Credible Commitments in the Commercial Sex Industry,” Journal of Law, Economics, and Organization, 1991.
Panel Discussion and Film Screening of The Apology. A panel discussion with Todd A. Henry, Professor of History, UC San Diego, and Phyllis Kim, Executive Director of Comfort Women Action for Redress & Education (CARE), followed by the film screening of The Apology (2016), a documentary following the journeys of three former “comfort women” in South Korea, China, and the Philippines, February 19, 2021.
Debunking Japanese Denialism on the “Comfort Women” through the Grassroots Movement in the U.S., webinar hosted by the Harvard Law Asian Pacific Law Students Association on February 16, 7pm Eastern.
Imperial Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery In Occupied China, webinar at University of Connecticut. Peipei Qiu, Louise Boyd Dale and Alfred Lichtenstein Chair Professor of Vassar College. February 12, 2021.
Wartime Legacies: Korean, Japanese and U.S. Perspectives on Recent Court Cases on the “Comfort Women,” webinar at Columbia University Center for Korean Research. Atsuko Kanehara, Japanese Society of International Law, Sophia University, Terence Roehrig, U.S. Naval War College, and Jeong-Ho Roh, Center for Korean Legal Studies at Columbia Law School, February 22, 2021.
Needless to say there are a range of heterodox views on sex work:
The term “sex work” was coined by full-service sex worker Carol Leigh in 1978 or 1979, as an attempt to reclaim her sense of her own agency, and as a response to objectifying feminist rhetoric that described her work as the “use” of her body by others. In the forty years since then, the term has taken on a multiplicity of connotations. Some people in the sex trades have embraced the term as a means of describing our cohort expansively in order to build a social and political coalition – “sex workers” includes all people who trade sexual labor and services for anything of value; this includes full-service sex workers, strippers, cam models, adult film performers, professional BDSM workers, peep show performers, lingerie models, etc. Some people in the sex trades continue to use the term “sex work” as Leigh did – in response to feminist rhetoric claiming that all forms of trading sex are violence, that violence and work have no overlap, and thus that trading sex can never be labor. A more insidious use of the term evolved out of the domestic and international debates over the passage of the domestic Trafficking Victims Protection Act and the international Palermo Protocol (both in 2000). This construction frames “sex work” as a discrete category from “sex trafficking” and claims that the line between sex work and sex trafficking is the line between consent and coercion, or between consent and force, or – at its extremes, between empowerment and violence.
People in the sex trades refuse, again and again, to fit our lives into these limited understandings. We have insisted on being understood as a community whose experiences are neither uniform nor categorically separable. We have insisted on describing our experiences in the sex trades in all of their complexity, on talking about what it means to consent to work, about how sex work stigma and criminalization are harms in themselves, about what it might look like if we could create a world free of those harms. We have insisted on talking about whether we want to describe trading sex as “work” at all – about whether the attempt to frame us as “workers” might be just another assimilationist tactic, a “love is love” style argument that our lives are legitimate only if they fit into a pre-existing (capitalist, ableist, white supremacist, productivity-centered) paradigm. We have insisted on talking about the dangers of the respectability politics of claiming that we are not drug users; not people without formal education and without aims to acquire it; not single mothers; people living with mental health conditions; survivors of childhood sexual assault; survivors of rape both at work and elsewhere; not people with no desire to become “productive members of society.” Some of us are each of these things, and none of these things delegitimizes our use of trading sex as a strategy for survival.
— Mary Laing (@DrMaryLaing) August 18, 2015
Hosna J. Shewly, Lorraine Nencel, Ellen Bal & Kathinka Sinha-Kerkhoff (2020) Invisible mobilities: stigma, immobilities, and female sex workers’ mundane socio-legal negotiations of Dhaka’s urban space, Mobilities, 15:4, 500-513, DOI: 10.1080/17450101.2020.1739867
Drawing on ethnography, this paper conceptualizes invisible mobilities by exploring the linkages between mobility, invisibility and hotel and residence based sex work in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Since both are illegal in Bangladesh, hotel and residence based sex workers (HRSWs) become targets of the different laws and sex work related social stigma. We show, in this paper, how invisible mobilities is used to strategize and counter-enact against the existing exploitative gendered socio-political-legal regimes and practices involved in sex work. Invisible mobilities refers to the way HRSWs move in order to hide their occupation from society and the law. Invisibility is at the core of all these connections: It enables HRSWs to continue sex work and avoid exclusion from family and members of their communities. While making themselves invisible permits them to continue their daily ways to earn a living, it also reinforces the same social stigma they are constantly trying to avoid. In doing so, this paper reveals the political economy of sex work in the city and provides a new theoretical window to understand the connections between gender, mobility and the city, constructing a bridge between mobility and sex work studies literature.
….The feminist mobilities literature, however, has not differentiated much according to different professions and their gendered repercussions. The case of sex work shows that differentiating between professions can give further insight into the gendered differences encountered in the use of urban space and mobility. Hence, by analyzing the mobility and use of space of sex workers, this paper widens the horizon of this body of literature and gives insight into how marginalized and vulnerable groups of women become invisible through their use of urban space and mobility.
Silence is also an important aspect of invisibility. In her work on sex work in Mumbai, Shah (2014) portrays how invisibility and visibility are simultaneously present in the sex industry. Her study juxtaposes the red light area in Mumbai, known for its iconicity and visibility with the invisibility encountered on the Naka, a street corner on a commuter street where daily wage work is solicited. Shah (2014) reflects on sexual commerce as negotiation for daily survival, and the role of the site where it takes place for its (in)visibility. It is commonly assumed that the brothel is the de facto place to engage in sex work, and in other sites, such as Naka, sex work is solicited alongside other forms of wage work. However, the silence of local people about this type of sex work makes it invisible in public discourses. Hackl (2018), on the other hand, shows invisibility is a form of silence regarding a particular subject or identity to evade stigmatization and exclusion.
The Politicus is a collaborative political community that facilitates content creation directly on the site. Our goal is to make the political conversation accessible to everyone.Any donations we receive will go into writer outreach. That could be advertising on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit or person-to-person outreach on College campuses. Please help if you can: