Women’s lives and bodies have been unrecognized casualties of war since ancient times, though these atrocities have not been documented until recent decades. In virtually every known historic era, rape has accompanied war in some shape or form. In the Old Testament of the Bible, mass rape is well documented between the Jews and their enemies (Gotschall 129), and the Ancient Greeks were also known to capture and rape women during wartime (Smith 1). Additionally, 13th century warlord Genghis Khan defined man’s highest function as ruining enemies through the seizure of possessions and women. Through his overwhelming power, he demonstrated strategic methods of violence at the expense of millions of women, and had a big hand in establishing strategic policies of rape warfare (Clifford 5). For millennia, war and rape were thought to go hand in hand. In a “worldwide shrug,” rape has commonly been viewed as an unavoidable consequence of the battlefield. Some argue that war is a cover for men to commit violence, while others say that the experience of war leads to frenzy which requires sex for a release - explaining away wartime rape as a consequence of celibacy among soldiers. Japanese General Matsui Iwane thought during World War II, men who did not have wives or girlfriends needed prostitutes to aid in this release, and sex workers might keep soldiers from raping civilians. Japan went so far as to turn this opinion to action, forcing over 200,000 “comfort women” from the primary areas of China, Korea, and the Philippines to prevent the negatives effects of the soldiers’ circumstantial celibacy (Moore 110). Through the ages of wartime, these perceptions were perpetuated, creating an effect of normalcy - that rape is an unfortunate consequence of war. However, rape is not solely a byproduct of war, but it is also a deliberate military strategy. As a war tactic, rape is used to display, communicate, and produce or maintain dominance (Card 7).
The age-old notion of “spoils of war” is one the most common associations made between war and women’s objectification during wartime. In connection to the theme of conquest, the “spoils of war” has occurred in many historic events, including Columbus’s expedition to the Caribbean. European invaders and their American successors also utilized rape as a means of conquest. This theme was later shown in the exploration of American West, when miners, traders, and soldiers in the late 19th century frequently raped Native American women. In connection with wartime, the “spoils of war” are often seen along with abduction. For example, Ancient Greeks captured and raped women during wartime, and kept them as wives and concubines (Smith 1). This was also common in the Medieval Arab Slave Trade, where prisoners of war from non-Arab lands often ended up as concubine slaves (Abegunde 194). These men did not respect women’s right to say no, because in the “spoils of war” frame of mind, women’s bodies are seen as a right to conquest, and thereby objectified (Smith 138)
While it is common to associate the “spoils of war” framing to wartime scenarios, this is a mistake - Rape is often used in conflicts as a way for attackers to perpetuate their social control (BBC News). These strategies are often well organized and systematic. This theme is displayed in the 1938 “Kristallnacht” or “Night of Broken Glass” where a major case of mob rape was committed against Jewish women. In this scenario, although Nazis were not technically permitted to rape Jewish women in fears of contaminating Aryan blood, they marched into Polish and Russian villages, looted homes and singled Jewish girls out for rape. The rapes often occurred in front of their families and the girls were beaten if they showed resistance (Smith 139). This type of display is meant to wound honor and display power, as the father figures had to stand by and watch these atrocities happen to their women. Another strategy meant to wound honor is genetic imperialism. Since women are seen as the reproducers for the community, impregnating the women of the opposing group is seen as a way to gain control. By establishing a realignment of loyalty for the future generations, genetic imperialism is used to undermine family solidarity (Card 5). In patriarchal societies, this can bring great distress to a community, as knowledge of these rapes can lead to men rejecting wives, mothers and daughters in order to maintain family honor (Card 7). As long ago as the ancient Babylonian Code of Hammurabi, being a married woman who was raped was stigmatized as an adulteress, for which stoning or exile could be inflicted (Milillo 199). Through these examples, rape as a war strategy is intentionally meant to inflict shame and guilt on a society, with the ultimate goal of power.
Welcome to the Women's International Human Rights: Rape as a Weapon of War - The Case of "Comfort Women" Edit
Objective: Analyze the role of international media/communication in shaping and reconstructing the narrative of "comfort women"
Rape as a Weapon of War Defined Edit
"A systematic pattern of rape perpetrated by fighters usually against civilian women and children at a rate much higher than the rate of rape prevailing during peacetime." (Hayden, R.M. (2000). Rape and Rape Avoidance in Ethno-National Conflicts: Sexual Violence in Liminalized States. American Anthropologist, 102(1), 27–41.)
-mass wartime rape, mass rape, and wartime rape are often used interchangeably throughout academic literature on rape during wartime.
Communication Theories for Analysis Edit
- O'Loughlin and Roselle's "Strategic Narratives" (Miskimmon, Alister, O'Loughlin, Benjamin, and Roselle, Laura. Strategic Narratives: Communication Power and the New World Order (Routledge Studies in Global Information, Politics, and Society). New York: Routledge, 2013. Print.)
- "Strategic narratives are a means for political actors to construct a shared meaning of the past, present, and future of international relations in order to shape the opinions and behavior of actors at home and overseas (60)."
- Manuel Castell's "Communication Power" (Castell, Manuel. Communication Power. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print)
- Networks form narratives and distribute stories to inform, influence, and reshape opinions and narratives.
- Messages are able to reshape and reconstruct ideas, beliefs, and values, but the true agency and power lies in the hands of the distributing power.
Foundational Framework for Women's International Human Rights: 1948 Universal Declaration of Human RightsEdit
Drafted under the leadership of Eleanor Roosevelt, this declaration, composed of 30 articles, provided the foundational framework and platform to address and define global human rights and issues. Total of 47 countries adopted the piece on December 10, 1948, and was ratified on December 16, 1949. Although the declaration failed to specifically focus on women's international human rights, it served as a strong precedent and exemplar for the global community to recognize broad, comprehensive human rights topics and instigated to take actions--for example, formation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights in 1976; The European Convention on Human Rights (1953); The American Convention on Human Rights (1978); and The African Charter on Human and People's Rights (1983).
Re-framing the Narrative of "Comfort Women" Edit
Overview of "Comfort Women" Edit
❖ Reports indicate 80,000-200,000 women and girls were forcibly conscripted into sexual slavery by Japanese Imperial Army from 1932 to 1945.
❖ Majority of the women and girls were taken from Korea, but many were also from China, the Philippines, Australia, and the Dutch East Indies.
❖ For nearly five decades, this war-time atrocity was a "forgotten and dark war-time past and crime" until former Korean comfort woman Kim Hak-sun ("Grandma Kim") publicly revealed her horrendous experience in August 1991 at the offices of Korean Church Women United (Christian NGO).
❖ Other victims followed “Grandma Kim’s” footsteps and publicly revealed their stories. Some also filed a lawsuit in Tokyo district court against the Japanese government for “crimes against humanity” in December 1991 and April 1992.
❖ Former comfort women have cited “shame,” “disgrace,” and “dishonor” as main reasons for silencing the atrocities they had to endure.
"Comfort Women" Timeline: From Domestic to Global Edit
❖ Late 1980s: Korean religious and secular human rights NGOs spearhead public discourse of “comfort women” issue at the International Conference on Women and Tourism (hosted by Korean Church Women United)
❖ August 1991: Grandma Kim publicly shares her testimony of being a former "comfort woman" and surviving years of war-time sexual slavery under the Japanese Imperial Army
❖ February 1992: Comfort women issue raised at United Nations Commission on Human Rights
❖ 1995-2007: Japanese government creates Asian Women’s Fund to give monetary compensation and health and welfare benefits to the "victims" of war-time atrocities, yet receives international criticism for simply upholding "moral" responsibility and not "legal" actions to prosecute those who participated in the war-time sexual slavery acts
❖ February 6, 1996: The UN officially condemns Japan for sexual slavery
❖ Today: Japanese government continues to deny “forcible sexual slavery” and argues all “compensation” have already made during South Korea-Japan 1965 Normalization Treaty and through Asian Women's Fund. However, the victims ask Japanese government to offer "sincere, earnest apology" and public acknowledgement of past wrongdoings
"Comfort Women" Issue: The Role of International Communication/Media Edit
Handful of comfort women victims and their supporters started weekly Wednesday protests in front of Japanese Embassy in Seoul in January 1992. This weekly gathering is still continuing today, and the number of protesters have drastically multiplied over the years. Hundreds, sometimes thousands, of individual and NGO supporters (both domestic and foreign) attend the weekly protests in hopes to bring justice to the aging women who have endured unspeakable physical, emotional, and psychological pain and turmoil. With South Korea as an emerging East Asian nation-state and gaining influence and prominence in the international arena, coupled with the "comfort women" issue being introduced to the global community as a serious women's rights violation, various foreign media--CNN, BBC, NBC, Reuters, AP, etc.--picked up on this issue and started to record and publish the stories of the comfort women. Prominent international NGOs such as the Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also played their parts in forming further narratives of the "comfort women" by actively and directly participating via creating reports and distributing testimonies of former comfort women to raise worldwide awareness of this war-time crime. In today's Information Age, more and more individual and civic groups are becoming proactive actors in domestic and international levels as they work to write their own stories, narratives, and disseminate these to incite debate and discussion about women's international human rights. With diversified multimedia tools and ever-increasing interconnectivity of the Internet, international, governmental, individual, and private actors have contributed to bring this once "domestic" (largely South Korean) issue into an international one.
Recent History: A Fight for the Narrative - Comfort Women in the International Arena Edit
o Over the course of history, we have seen the narrative consistently re-shaped by the media, government actors, non-governmental organizations, and other prominent international actors.
o In 1993 the United Nations (UN) Commission on Human Rights (replaced in 2006 by the UN Human Rights Council) declared systematic rape and military sexual slavery to be crimes against humanity punishable as violations of women’s human rights.
o In 1995 the UN’s Fourth World Conference on Women specified that rape by armed groups during wartime is a war crime.
o The International Criminal Court, established in 1998, subsequently was granted jurisdiction over a range of women’s issues, including rape and forced pregnancy.
o 2007 Resolution passed in the US House of Representatives: “should formally acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility in a clear and unequivocal manner for its Imperial Armed Forces’ coercion of young women into sexual slavery.”
o United Nations: High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, said on 6 August 2014 that Japan “has failed to pursue a comprehensive, impartial and lasting resolution” to address the rights of “comfort women” from the Second World War.
o Japanese Foreign Ministry Ambassador in charge of human rights and humanitarian issues, Kuni Sato: asked for revisions to comfort women statements, October 14, 2014.
Final Analysis and Recommendation Edit
For policy makers, policy analysts, and policy implementers, our research and study of "comfort women" indicate the importance of a more active and direct involvement of international and governmental actors to ultimately bring justice to the surviving victims of war-time sexual slavery (esp. comfort women). While the ultimate intention should not be to condemn the Japanese population as a whole--especially since most war-time criminals have passed away--with the help of international and governmental participants, it is possible to form a more definitive and unified message and narrative to announce that it is unacceptable to use rape as a weapon of war. This "comfort women" case could certainly serve as a strong modern-day precedent to reverberate this message to the global community.