Sexual Violence and the Issue of Comfort Women in Contemporary Japan

Friday, July 18, 2014: 8:44 AM
Room: 302
Oral Presentation
Kazue MUTA , Osaka University, Osaka, Japan
The “comfort” women, in reality sexual slaves for the Japanese military during the Asia-Pacific War, demand but have yet to obtain an official apology from the Japanese government. Rather, their demands have been met with insulting reactions from right wingers, including influential politicians, whose main reasoning is: 1) Those women were not forced but were licensed prostitutes; 2) it is a kind of universality that soldiers of many nations have perpetrated wartime violations of the dignity of women; and 3) therefore Japan’s issue of comfort women is not peculiar in the history of mankind, so it is not necessary for Japan alone to apologize.

This reasoning is not a relic of a bygone era, but sounds familiar and even resonates with current ‘rape myths’ and rape culture in Japanese society which encourage male sexual aggression and support violence against women. Regrettably, tolerance of sexual violence against women penetrates even the law.  Consequently, CEDAW, in its 2009 Concluding Observations, urged Japan to revise and change for the better the sections of the Penal Code on sexual crimes against women (Paragraph 33-34, CEDAW/C/JPN/CO/6, 7 August 2009).  The Government did not address this point in its response issued in August 2011. Furthermore, in recent years the Supreme Court of Japan has overruled several judgments by the lower courts in rape cases, usually deciding that the victim’s witness was not reliable.

My paper will examine in detail the connection between the reactionary response to the issue of comfort women and the reluctance to uphold women’s rights in cases of sexual crimes, and will discuss the deeply rooted misogyny in Japanese society.