South Korea Illegally Held Prostitues Who Catered to G.I.s Decades Ago, Court Says
Jan 21, 2017 03:14 PM EST
A South Korean court upheld the ruling against the government for breaking the law during the 1960s and 1970s by detaining prostitutes who catered to American soldiers and forcing them to undergo treatment for sexually-transmitted diseases.
In 2014, several surviving prostitutes filed a lawsuit against South Korea to reclaim human dignity and proper compensation. They claimed that the government played a role in creating and managing a broad network of prostitution in camp towns, called gijichon, where poor Korean women worked in bars and brothels frequented by American troops. In a landmark ruling, the women did not win the admission they want from the government nor the apology sought for. However, the court ruled South Korea illegally detained prostitutes for forced treatment and ordered it to pay $4,240 compensation to 57 plaintiffs for physical and psychological damage, the New York Times reports.
Judge Jeon Ji-Won stated this is a serious human rights violation and should never be repeated. Further, the prostitutes had been "comfort women" for the US military which goes a way back to the country's most delicate historical issues in World War II. During that time, women from Korea were forced into sexual servitude for Japan's imperial army. The plaintiffs argued that South Korea is a hypocrite to condemn Japan while not acknowledging its own role in ensuring that foreign soldiers had access to Korean prostitutes.
In addition, the plaintiffs testified that government officials called them "patriots" and urged them to earn more. Further, not only did South Korea sponsored classes for them to learn basic English and etiquette but the American military together with the government officials regularly raided clubs looking for women who were though to spread diseases. They would detain those women and force them to take medication until well. Clearly, prostitutes were treated not for themselves but for the soldiers.
The women kept quiet for decades partly because the military government enforced silence about issues that could lead detrimental to the alliance with the US. Also, South Korean society has an extremely negative view of prostitutes. Scholars who studied the issue discussed that South Korea was motivated by fear that the American military, who were stationed to provide defense against North Korea, would leave.