Sex crimes are committed during genocides and world wars from Rwanda to Tokyo. Sexual violence is often times used objectively as a tool of war but also occurs indiscriminately among military and civilians during armed conflicts. The resounding impacts on the women, and on the community that this violence has affected, are not easily corrected. “Unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted infections, and stigmatization” are just a few injuries. As the UN page on genocide and sexual violence points out, “for centuries, sexual violence in conflict was tacitly accepted as unavoidable.” The most recognized historical account of these horrendous actions is World War II, specifically Korean, Chinese, and Filipino women who were forced into brothels by Japanese military. Two courts in Tokyo and Nuremberg were set up after the war to indict suspected war crimes, but sexual violence was not accepted as a “crime”.
Currently, The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, “includes rape, sexual slavery, enforced prostitution . . . or any other form of sexual violence of comparable gravity as a crime against humanity when it is committed in a widespread or systematic way.” There were more than 230 South Korean women reported as former sex slaves during World War II out of the reportedly 200,000 Asian female victims. Testimony and wartime records show that these women were coerced as military prostitutes throughout the war. There are now 55 elderly women in South Korea who are still awaiting their reparation. Yi Ok-seon is one of these women and was kidnapped at the age of 15 years old. She was quoted as saying, “I am asking for compensation for the Japanese who beat and stabbed me, for those who made me bleed. We came back as cripples.” 87 year old Kim confirmed saying, “My life has been ruined. Even though I managed to survive and return home, I feel like my fellow Koreans will point their fingers at me if they discover my past, even though what happened to me was against my will.”
Are past apologies by the Japanese government enough to compensate for the lives that were ruined by coerced prostitution? Is there anything that can be done to help mend the past harm that has been done? Should specific individuals be prosecuted for these past war crimes, even though they were not considered “crimes” at the time they were committed?