CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — A Harvard University professor has ignited an international uproar and faces mounting scrutiny for alleging that Korean women who were kept as sex slaves in wartime Japan had actually chosen to work as prostitutes.
In a recent academic paper, J. Mark Ramseyer rejected a wide body of research finding that Japan’s so-called “comfort women” were forced to work at military brothels during World War II. Ramseyer instead argued that the women willingly entered into contracts as sex workers.
His paper has intensified a political dispute between Japan, whose leaders deny that the women were coerced, and South Korea, which has long pressed Japan to provide apologies and compensation to women who have shared accounts of rape and abuse.
Decades of research has explored the abuses inflicted on comfort women from Korea and other nations previously occupied by Japan. In the 1990s, women began sharing accounts detailing how they were taken to comfort stations and forced to provide sexual services for the Japanese military.
Hundreds of scholars have signed letters condemning Ramseyer’s article, which united North and South Korea in sparking outrage. Last Tuesday, North Korea’s state-run DPRK Today published an article calling Ramseyer a “repulsive money grubber” and a “pseudo scholar.”
Ramseyer, a professor of Japanese legal studies at Harvard Law School, declined to comment.
Ramseyer’s article, titled “Contracting for sex in the Pacific War,” was…