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Journal Delays Print Publication of Harvard Law Professor’s Controversial ‘Comfort Women’ Article Amid Outcry

The International Review of Law and Economics will temporarily delay print publication of Harvard Law professor J. Mark Ramseyer’s controversial paper claiming sex slaves in Imperial Japan, known as “comfort women,” were voluntarily employed, the journal told The Crimson Friday.

The journal initially issued an “Expression of Concern” earlier this week in response to mounting backlash, announcing that concerns over the article’s “historical evidence” are currently under investigation.

“Comfort women” is a term used to refer to women and girls from Japan’s occupied territories, including Korea, who were forced into sex slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army before and during World War II.

Against the historical consensus, Ramseyer claims in his paper, entitled “Contracting for Sex in the Pacific War," that comfort women were not coerced and instead voluntarily entered into contracts with Japanese brothels. His article stoked public outcry across South Korea after his abstract was re-printed in late January in the nationalist Japanese newspaper Sankei Shimbun.

Since, students and scholars at Harvard and beyond criticized his paper as lacking historical context and evidence.

Multiple individuals and groups have penned open letters and petitions, totalling at least 10,000 signatures, demanding various responses from the journal, Ramseyer, and Harvard. Some argued the article should be withdrawn from publication, while others advocated disciplinary action against Ramseyer.

Andrew Davis, vice president of communications for Elsevier, the journal’s publisher, wrote to The Crimson Friday that the print issue slated to include Ramseyer’s article is being “temporarily held.” Writing on behalf of the journal’s editors, Davis also confirmed the journal still plans to print the article.

“Although not printed, it is already assigned to the March issue (Volume 65) of the journal and is considered final,” Davis wrote. “The print issue is being temporarily held so the Expression of Concern, and comments/replies, can be published in the same issue as the original article to give readers access to the fullest possible picture.”


At the journal’s request, Harvard History professor Andrew D. Gordon ’74 and East Asian Languages and Civilizations professor Carter J. Eckert are preparing a response for publication, Eckert told The Crimson earlier this month.

Since the publication of Ramseyer's article, activists and academics alike have criticized the journal for its editorial process and decision to move forward with publication.

Samuel Clowes Huneke, a history professor at George Mason University, wrote to the editorial board of the journal demanding the article’s withdrawal, according to a tweet on Feb. 3. In an emailed statement to The Crimson, Huneke wrote that his letter went unacknowledged by the journal.

“By denying that these women were forced into sexual slavery, Prof. Ramseyer and the IRLE thus put themselves in the company of those who deny or whitewash other war crimes and crimes against humanity,” Huneke wrote.


Sara Kang, a History Ph.D. student who is assisting Gordon and Eckert’s effort to draft a response, wrote in an email that while it is important to respect Ramseyer’s academic freedom, his article is “problematic on so many fronts.”

“Academic journals have a responsibility to publish work that is well-researched and competent based on the system of peer review,” wrote Kang, who studies Japanese and Korean history.

Read entire article at Harvard Crimson