A Montgomery County proclamation against human trafficking, commemorating “comfort women” of World War II has drawn the attention and ire of letter writers who say they are from Japan.
Dozens of emails signed with Japanese addresses flooded council and media inboxes during the weekend, condemning an April 23 proclamation that honored the “comfort women” of World War II. The proclamation also recognized the work of Del. Susan C. Lee (D-Dist. 16) of Bethesda to pass state legislation against human trafficking.
Comfort women are women who say they were forced into sexual slavery during World War II.
Councilwoman Valerie Ervin (D-Dist. 5) said Monday the statement spoke against the crime of human trafficking and was similar to one made by the U.S. House of Representatives in 2007 on the issue.
“It is a statement that we do not condone or tolerate crimes against humanity,” Ervin said Monday.
But Lee said the proclamation also raises awareness of what comfort women suffered and that human trafficking is still alive in Maryland.
The proclamation resolved that “the County Council of Montgomery County, Md. hereby extends our profound hope that the crimes against the comfort women of World War II will serve as a lasting reminder to the world that crimes against humanity will not be condoned or tolerated.”
In presenting the proclamation April 23, Ervin said the comfort women were a group of about 200,000 young women forced into sexual slavery by Japan’s Imperial Armed Forces during the second World War.
The average age of those women was 12 to 19, Christine Choi, president of the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues, said April 23.
Today, the average age of those trafficked in Maryland is 9 to 20, Lee said Monday.
The dozens of emails received by The Gazette expressed opposition to the proclamation and refuted the proclamation’s assertion that the comfort women were forced into prostitution.
Many emails use similar language and arguments and some appear to be identical but with different writers’ names.
“Despite your intention for prevention of the human trafficking, we regret to express our deep disappointment that you acted on the story which was not based on the data through any official research by your government but written based on fabrication,” one letter says.
“It’s quite ridiculous to exaggerate the issue on Comfort Women for a purpose of putting Japan on the same line of Germany[,] which committed the Holocaust[,] which has nothing to do with Japan, by identifying the Japanese war and the German war which are different in every aspect,” another letter says.
The Gazette replied to some of the emails, asking questions of the authors, but no one responded.
Lee said she did not receive any emails on the subject. She asked how many came from United States residents and how many from Japan, saying she suspected that all of the backlash was coming from Japan.
The issue of comfort women has been one that Asian Americans have grappled with for decades, Lee said.
“A lot of Korean Americans ... they remember those times, what happened,” she said. “It’s a human rights issue. What they want, the victims, they just want Japan to acknowledge and apologize.”
Lee disagreed with the assertion in the emails that the proclamation was based on false allegations or groundless information.
“There are too many witness around, still living, who can tell you a different story,” she said.
Lee commended Ervin taking such a strong stance on human trafficking.
Lee was behind two bills passed in the Maryland General Assembly during the 2013 session to combat human trafficking. The first prevents defendants charged with trafficking offenses involving a minor to use the defense that they didn’t know the victim was a minor. The second provides the proceeds seized during human trafficking cases to be distributed through a fund to the victims of the crimes.
Prosecuting human trafficking remains a hurdle for the state, Lee said.