Professor J. Mark Ramseyer, who teaches Japanese legal studies at Harvard, has some hot takes on what really went down during World War II. According to The Guardian, last year Ramseyer published an academic paper online claiming that women who were forced to work in brothels, known as “comfort women,” were not forced at all but instead “voluntarily entered into contracts” to perform sex acts for members of the military. Despite Ramseyer’s argument that the women had agreed to be enslaved, in 2015 Japan issued an official apology to South Korea for the estimated 200,000 South Korean women forced into brothels by the Imperial Japanese Army, some of whom were still alive when the apology was issued. The apology was not accepted.
But Ramseyer apparently wasn’t going to let something small like documented history distract him from the point he was trying to make. Ramseyer’s paper was due to be published in the March issue of the International Review of Law and Economics, but as The Guardian reports, the issue is being suspended over concerns about Ramseyer’s writings. In the abstract for his academic paper, Ramseyer lays out his belief that the women in the brothels and the brothel owners came to mutually beneficial terms for sex work including, “a large advance with one- or two-year maximum terms, with (ii) an ability for the women to leave early if they generated sufficient revenue.” So not only were women knowingly going into a brothel, he suggests, they were negotiating favorable terms for themselves.
However, Ramseyer’s colleagues could not find any historical evidence of such contracts existing. In a statement requesting the retraction of Ramseyer’s paper, two historians, also from Harvard, noted, “We do not see how Ramseyer can make credible claims, in extremely emphatic wording, about contracts he has not read.”
As of today, the South Korean government recognizes 16 women who lived through sexual enslavement in a war zone. Ramseyer referred to them in his paper as “women who have had a rough life.”