Author ordered to compensate comfort women

January 13, 2016

By Lee Kyung-min

A district court ordered Park Yu-ha, 59, the writer of the controversial book “Comfort Women of the Empire,” to pay 90 million won (About $74,000) in compensation to nine survivors of sexual slavery under the Japanese occupation, Wednesday.

Park Yu-ha

Park Yu-ha

The Seoul Eastern District Court ruled in favor of the nine victims, recognizing that Park’s book published in 2013 inflicted emotional distress on them.

The nine, including Lee Ok-seon, 87, filed a suit last year against Park seeking 270 million won ($223,000)— 3 million won each — claiming that they were subject to emotional suffering due to her degrading depiction of them as “voluntary prostitutes,” as well as characterizing the relationship between some of the former sex slaves and Japanese soldiers as “comrade-like.”

The court recognized that Park defamed the victims by depicting them in a degrading manner with false facts.

“Park indicated in her book that the victims not only voluntarily become prostitutes, but added that they actually enjoyed it, thereby incurring enormous emotional distress,” the court said.

The court said that the facts regarding the victims’ plight during wartime atrocities are well established by a number of U.N. reports and academic journals as well as Japan’s 1993 landmark Kono Statement.

It said many of their conclusions reached the consensus that the victims suffered deplorable conditions with their human rights irrevocably violated.

The court dismissed Park’s claim that her work as an academic piece should be immune from criminal prosecution.

“Considering the fact that the victims are still alive, her right to academic freedom does not supersede that of the victims’ basic right to dignity,” the court added.

Earlier, Park said that she had no intention to degrade the women involved, and that she was unfairly accused of being a sympathizer of Japanese wartime atrocities.

“The use of the phrase that was the subject of contention at the trial was intended to position them in a larger context of history. Readers are entitled to make their own judgments, but my intention was to introduce an alternative to the socially dominant view,” she said.

The same court in February ordered the publisher to revise 38 such sections which it recognized as defamatory against the women. The newer version of the book was published with such revisions in place.

Separately, the nine victims filed criminal defamation charges against Park. The first hearing will begin at the Seoul Eastern District Court on Jan. 20.

The Japanese literature professor at Sejong University in Seoul has been taking constant public criticism over the book, in which she claimed that there was no evidence to show the Japanese military was involved in the recruitment of women for forced sexual slavery — the same claim made by the Japanese government.

She also wrote that many Koreans collaborating with the Japanese government lured the women into sexual slavery.

Park said that her view, regarded as unconventional or outrageous here, was to suggest a more comprehensive or alternative approach toward resolving the comfort women issue, which remains a symbol of irreconcilable strife between the two countries.

Former sex slaves and civic groups said that Park has helped the Japanese government exempt itself from responsibility for the atrocity.

Mixed responses

Earlier last month, 190 scholars and cultural pundits here issued a statement denouncing the indictment and the district court ruling, calling them an “anachronistic move” against the principles of democracy.

“Freedom of study and the press are severely restricted due to the judiciary measure,” they said in the statement.

But 380 scholars and activists from Korea, Japan and the U.S. criticized Park for aiding the Japanese government in dodging its culpability. They said that academic discussions regarding the comfort women issue should be dealt with delicately, keeping in mind the fact that some survivors are still alive.

Nine scholars and activists said the prosecution indictment to hold a scholar criminally accountable for her academic work was improper.

They also noted that Park made claims without proper legal understanding or supporting facts, saying considering the sensitivity and gravity of the issue, such a provocative viewpoint requires a painstaking process before being presented to the public.


  1. Joseph Yi

    January 14, 2016 at 6:26 AM

    From what I read, none of Park’s findings are surprising: they are basically the same as Sarah Soh’s “Comfort Women” (University of Chicago Press 2009), which is considered the definitive work in the subject, according to Bruce Cumings. The Korean media rarely goes into details of Park’s book and NEVER mentions Soh. From my personal correspondence, media reporters are given strict guidelines to describe the “so-called comfort women” as sex slaves lured or coerced by Japanese agents. With partial exception of Hankyoreh, none of the major media discuss Korean-government run comfort stations for American troops, or comfort stations for Korean troops during Vietnam War, lest such discussion undermine Korea’s moral power over Japan. Having taught in Seoul for five years, I can attest to the strong anti-Japanese sentiment here that discourages most professors from doing objective research on this topic or even discussing it during class. Bruce Cumings claims, “The way to bridge social and ideological conflict is to let the truth come out, let people debate the truth in a truly democratic manner, and thus use history to pursue reconciliation with those who think differently than you do.” I hope this will happen someday in my beloved country. Joseph Yi, Hanyang University, Seoul, Korea

  2. Songhee DeBarbieri

    January 15, 2016 at 8:50 AM

    This is, indeed, terrible story. Park is certainly careless, shallow, insensitive.

    I feel sad that this kind of story is from woman in Korea and especially who teaches in university. What can she teach if her basic thoughts are wrong? How dare can she judge comfort woman enjoyed sexual relationship with Japanese soldier? Is she in right mind? This is horrible statement. She should NOT teach. She needs to check her state of mind. Does she ever been loved? She should forfeit ANY benefit from teaching university.

    I’d like to apologize to the nine survivors on behalf of Park’s cruel statement. I am sad and really Sorry….