South Korea’s Supreme Court has ruled that the “comfort women” for U.S. troops in the 1940s are entitled to receive reparations from the government.
The Sept. 29 decision confirmed an earlier ruling that each of the women who worked in the brothels set up for U.S.soldiers should be compensated between 3 million won and 7 million won (approximately $2,092-$4,881).
The verdict also confirmed the existence of the brothels set up in U.S. military camptown in Korea 65 years ago. Known locally as “gijichon,” camptowns imposed state violence against the female victims.
Speaking in front of the court’s main gate in Seoul after the ruling, 72-year-old plaintiff Kim Suk-ja mentioned those who had passed since she and 121 other plaintiffs filed the compensation suit in 2014. The number of plaintiffs had dropped to 95, after 24 died and two withdrew from the lawsuit.
“I feel like I could shout with joy,” Kim said before breaking into tears.
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“I had been frustrated that the Supreme Court hadn’t made any ruling in the several years since we filed the lawsuit, but now that it has finally returned a verdict today in favor of us grandmothers, I can’t help but cry,” she said. “With each year the lawsuit went on, more of our sisters passed. I think they, too, are happy in heaven.”
The Camptown Women’s Human Rights Coalition, which supported the plaintiffs over the years, was created in 2012 to advocate for the victims of the state-managed camptown sex trade.
In 2018, an appellate court ruled in favor of the victims and acknowledged the government’s responsibility. While the plaintiff and the defendant both filed immediate appeals after the ruling, it took the Supreme Court over four years to arrive at a decision.
A statement from the advocates and other participants of the press conference sought an official apology for the government, a new law that helps spread awareness about the issue of the “comfort women” and support for the victims.
Kim, who had started working as a housemaid at 12 years old, traveled to one camptown after another at 19 after learning about the opportunity to make money. She only left the camptowns when she turned 59 years old in 2009.
Women in such camptowns were forced to undergo venereal disease testing at a public health center, and those who tested positive were detained.
One camp was called the “Monkey House” because of the way women screamed in pain and moved in the prison cages after receiving penicillin injections, as if they were monkeys trapped inside a zoo.
“The hardest thing was that no one helped us,” Kim said. “We had to defend ourselves,” said Kim.