Aug. 10 (UPI) — A South Korean academic who triggered controversy after publishing a book on Korean “comfort women” said the issue of Japanese wartime brothels remains contentious, because the Korean public is operating under the wrong assumption the women were sex slaves.
Park Yu-ha, a professor of Japanese literature at Sejong University in Seoul, has previously said Korean women who worked in the brothels developed camaraderie with the soldiers at military outposts and volunteered to have sex with multiple soldiers as prostitutes.
These and other claims Park made in her 2013 book Comfort Women of the Empire have brought civil and criminal complaints from former comfort women, who have testified to countless rapes and beatings while forced to serve in brothels.
Park lost a civil lawsuit in 2016 but won a criminal case in 2017, when a court in Seoul ruled in favor of protecting academic freedom and expressions even “when they are wrong.”
Speaking on a panel in Seoul on Thursday, Park said the last 25 years of research indicates scholars’ understanding of the comfort women issue has “changed greatly,” but the changes are not reflected in public discussions and causing “national confusion.”
“It is necessary to have an idea, that the current understanding of the comfort women issue is not accurate,” Park said, according to News 1. “Controversy will continue as long as there is no making of [Korean] public awareness who the comfort women really were.”
Referring to calls for an official apology from Japanese leaders from the surviving comfort women, Park said, “asking the Japanese emperor or prime minister to get down on their knees and apologize will only worsen [Japan-Korea] relations.”
Park also criticized what she described on Thursday as the “idolization” of comfort women through the erection of bronze statues, depicting a teenage Korean girl, an icon of innocence and victimhood.
Lee Yong-soo, a survivor, has called Park, who studied at Japan’s Waseda University, a “pro-Japanese traitor.”
Reports of her remarks on Thursday brought strong reactions online, with local commenters suggesting Park “keep camaraderie” with troops at brothels and see whether her theory would hold at a comfort woman station.
A conservative South Korean civic group hosted Park’s presentation. Her views align with right-wing Japanese positions on comfort women.