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South Korea: Suit Against Government for Forced Prostitution after 1957

(July 9, 2014) On June 25, 2014, 122 women sued the Korean government, claiming that they were forced to engage in sexual intercourse for money for members of the United States military who were stationed in Korea after the Korean War cease-fire in 1957. (Toru Higashioka, Former “Comfort Women” Serving U.S. Military File Damages Lawsuit, ASAHI SHINBUN (June 28, 2014).)

The involvement of the Korean government in the prostitution around U.S. military bases only slowly became public knowledge. (KATHARINE H.S. MOON, SEX AMONG ALLIES (1997); Sang-hun Choe, Ex-Prostitutes Say South Korea and U.S. Enabled Sex Trade Near Bases, NY TIMES (Jan. 7, 2009).) In 2012, the Gender Equality and Family Committee of the National Assembly asked the Ministry of Gender Equality & Family to investigate the issue and establish a policy. However, the Ministry did not send the result of the investigation to the Committee. Because the government did not do anything to further the investigation, the plaintiffs and their support groups decided to file the lawsuit. (“Camp Town Women Control” Disclosure of Document Signed by Park Chung-hee [in Korean], HANKYOREH (Nov. 6, 2013).)

Some evidence of the government’s involvement was found recently. In 2013, National Assembly member Sung-hui Yu submitted to the Committee a document, “Camp Town Clean-up Measures,” that was created by the administrative affairs department of the President’s Office in April 1957 and signed by the former President, Park Chung-hee, on May 2, 1957. The document stated that 9,935 women lived in 62 camp towns (villages around U.S. military bases). The document proposed measures to work toward:

  • eradication of sexually transmitted diseases;
  • improvement of conditions in the villages;
  • provision of clean water; and
  • other steps. (Id.)

At a press conference about the lawsuit, members of support groups stated that some of the 122 women went to the camp towns because they were poor and could not make a living otherwise after the war. Some of them were sent there through human trafficking. They were forced by violent means to sell their bodies to American soldiers. The government exploited them in order to earn U.S. dollars. The plaintiffs are seeking an apology from the government and approximately US$10,000 each in damages. The supporters explained that the amount was decided somewhat randomly, because it was necessary to specify an amount for the litigation. (“Camp Town Women’s” Group Files Lawsuits for Damages Against the Government [in Korean], YONHAP NEWS (June 25, 2014).)