San Francisco is preparing to unveil a ground-breaking statue (the statue above is a different but similar statue in Korea). Organized by Julie Tang and Lillian Sing, two retired judges (with Sing being the first Asian-American female judge in Northern California), the statue remembers the thousands of Korean, Chinese, and Filipino women who were enslaved by the Japanese Imperial army as sex slaves during World War II.
The statue is intended to serve not just as a memorial for past sex crimes against women, but is also intended to bring attention to the ongoing issue of sexual trafficking and sex slavery. It is also notable that these are Asian women. Sing made this statement concerning the history of the ‘comfort girls:’
At lunch, Sing said that she felt that racism in the United States had played a silencing role when it comes to recognizing what happened to the comfort women. “Why did this take so long?” she said. Kim Hak-sun “spoke out in 1991. There is the race issue: Asian women’s lives didn’t matter, like black men’s lives don’t matter.”
Sing is spot on in how little Asian women’s lives matter. Before Amsterdam there was Bankok, and along with the Philippines it is an enormous destination site for men who want to buy sex to fulfill the fantasy of a submissive Asian women.
Although the sex industry has a detrimental effect on women everywhere, Asian women experience a particularly harsh intersection of racism, socio-economic inequality, and sexism spurred on by racial stereotypes of the over-sexualized but submissive Asian woman. Furthermore, Japan was not the only military to colonize Asian women’s bodies. According to Asian Women Coalition Ending Prostitution, “prostitution is not a time honored cultural practice among Asians.” For countries such as Vietnam and Korea, the American military also introduced widespread prostitution to fulfill the supposed “sexual needs” of men. In Thailand, women are pushed off their land by globalization and find themselves entrapped in the feminization of poverty – and many end up prostituted in Bangkok in an industry which provides enormous profit to the country of Thailand.
This inequality is directly related to the socio-economic world order that puts countries such as Thailand and the Philippines at direct disadvantage to the richer, Western nations from which many of the sex tourists originate.
It is Japanese and American imperialism re-enacted on Asian women’s bodies through the sex tourism industry. This statue remembering the suffering of Asian women in sexual slavery is more relevant than ever.
Testimonies from former prostituted women expose the racism entrenched in the sex industry that is enacted upon Asian women’s bodies. In one narrative in the book Prostitution Narratives: Stories of Survival in the Sex Trade, the narrator recalls how the Asian women were kept separate – in the same legal brothel – from the Australian women, and it was very obvious that they were trafficked illegally. She further recalled how much worse the Asian women were treated by the johns. Although based in Canada, AWCEP corroborates this narrative, explaining that “Human trafficking is a regular aspect of how Asian women are prostituted.”
For all feminist who are supposedly against colonialism and racism, this statue should be a wake up call to the racial inequalities necessary for sexual trafficking and the sex industry to thrive. Sing herself said: Asian women’s lives don’t matter. No more is this illustrated than in the sexual slavery inherent to the success of the sex industry – illegal AND legal.