Sex Work and Human Rights

“Camptown Prostitutes” sue Korean Government for Compensation*

The following is a translation of an article that appeared in Korean daily Kyunghyang Shinmun on June 25, 2014. The image below is property of Yonhap News.

“U.S. Military Camp towns were providing comfort women for U.S. troops” – 112 Women file for compensation against the South Korean government

Camptown Prostitutes sue Korean Government for Compensation. Photo by Yonhap News.

The Korean government’s tolerance and supervision of camp towns was illegal.

Women who were involved in prostitution near US army bases filed for compensation against the Korean government. They submitted a petition to the Seoul Central District Court asking for a compensation of ten million won (approx. US$ 9,900) per person. The plaintiffs, comprised of 112 women, held a press conference on the 25th of June at Seoul Women’s Plaza, and stated, “The Korean government’s policy to keep military camp towns was nothing short of providing comfort women to US troops.” They went on to demand “an apology and compensation for every victim of the comfort women system within military camp towns”.

Plaintiffs also stated, “South Korean comfort women were not only in Japan. The Korean government created a ‘U.S. army comfort women’ system and supervised it.” “No one from the government protected us; instead they used us to earn foreign currency.” They continued, “Poverty resulting from the Korean War or human trafficking brought us to the military camp, and we experienced various forms of violence committed by U.S. soldiers. We tried asking the police for help in order to escape the camp, but it was the police themselves who brought us back there.”

Plaintiffs pointed out that the government not only tolerated prostitution, which was illegal, but also overlooked the abuse committed by the soldiers. They went on to say, “The government should reveal the history of comfort women in U.S. military camps, investigate the harm done to them, and take legal responsibility.” The press conference and the submission of the petition was hosted by the “United Korean Women’s Association” and “Solidarity for Human Rights of Gijichon Women”.*

Source: Park Eun Ha, Kyunghyang Shinmun. Click here to read the original article in Korean.

* Gijichon (기지촌) is the Korean term for U.S. military camp towns.

Recommended Reading

Sealing Cheng – On the Move for Love: Migrant Entertainers and the U.S. Military in South Korea (UPenn Press)

* With regards to the title, it was pointed out to us that the term “camptown prostitutes” was, in that person’s view, “arbitrary” and “not fair”. The exchange of sex for money in the vicinity of U.S. military bases in South Korea is generally referred to as “camptown prostitution” and the women involved therein as “camptown prostitutes”. The corresponding Korean term for the latter is gijichon yeoseong (기지촌 여성), which literally means “military base village women” but is generally translated as “camptown prostitutes”. To our knowledge, the suit brought forward by the 112 plaintiffs is the first occasion where these women compare their situation to those women who are often referred to as “comfort women” (위안부, wianbu), a euphemism to describe women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II. We decided to publish the translation of the above article because of the significance of this change, and we always used scare quotes when using the terms “camptown prostitutes” and “comfort women” to indicate that they represent special terminology used in this discourse. Where “camptown prostitution” is concerned, it remains unclear to what extent some, most or all women involved were forced to provide sex. The title above is not intended to dismiss the veracity of the claims brought forward by the plaintiffs, nor is it intended to express any opinion on the matter. It simply used, in scare quotes, the term these women are generally referred to.

2 responses

  1. humanright

    The term “Camptown Prostitutes” in the healine is arbitrary, not fair. These women who began a class action express themselves as “comfort women” controlled by the Korean Government. If the issue is not a diplomatic one about history, but a human rights concern for the future of all nations, we should stand for justice and human right.

    July 6, 2014 at 9:23 pm

    • We have added a reply to your comment and incorporated it into the main article (see above).

      July 10, 2014 at 2:43 pm

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