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(Dis)Honoured Bodies: The Impact of the “Ideal” Victim on Redress for South Korea’s Sex Slaves

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posted on 2023-03-02, 10:36 authored by Charlotte E. Mills

The sexual enslavement of Korean women has been an ongoing human rights issue in South Korea since WW2, with sexual slavery also occurring during the Korean War, within the US military camp-towns, and in contemporary Korean society. Consequently, women have been marginalised and silenced, with victim-survivors struggling to receive full legal redress from their perpetrators. This is despite a redress movement that appeared alongside the first public testimony of WW2 sex slave survivor, Kim Hak-sun, in 1991.

Since Kim Hak-sun’s testimony, the experiences of South Korean sex slaves have been contested. This has resulted in the Korean state “fighting” to control survivors’ narratives, victimhood, and the wider victimhood of the nation. Whilst this approach has led to WW2 sex slave survivors and their redress movement receiving support, the effect has been a creation of a hierarchy of victimhood that seemingly values one collective experience of sexual slavery (WW2) over others, further marginalising Korean women.

This thesis examines the silencing of South Korean victim-survivors of sexual slavery from WW2 to the present day. It analyses the provision of redress for Korean sexual slaves through the lens of an “ideal” victim, one used to separate “legitimate” victims from perceived “willing prostitutes”. It unravels this “ideal” victim construct – how it came about and for what purpose - and assesses its impact upon the survivors’ pursuit of redress. It argues that this construct is the result of a combination of socio-cultural norms and the state’s desire to build national identity after decades of colonialism, war, and authoritarianism. Combined, these factors influence the development of Korean law and determine whether redress is provided to female victims. Ultimately, this thesis contends that analysing the “ideal” victim provides an explanation as to why all Korean sexual slavery victim-survivors remain marginalised and have yet to receive truth and justice.



Loveday Hodson; Troy Lavers

Date of award


Author affiliation

Leicester Law School

Awarding institution

University of Leicester

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD



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