A former fortress where Japanese soldiers kept women they abducted during World War Two is seen abandoned in Xipan village, Shanxi Province, China, July 18, 2015. “Comfort women� is the Japanese euphemism for women who were forced into prostitution and sexually abused at Japanese military brothels before and during World War Two. According to Zhang Shuangbing, an independent researcher into Chinese "comfort women" during World War Two, Japanese soldiers stayed at the fortress for three years during the war and kept over 50 abducted women serving as "comfort women" there. REUTERS/Kim Kyung-HoonPICTURE 5 OF 33 FOR WIDER IMAGE STORY "COMFORT WOMAN SURVIVORS TELL THEIR STORIES" SEARCH "KIM COMFORT" FOR ALL PICTURES

In the category of appalling but unsurprising when it comes to the exploitation of labour by capital, we have this “charming” vignette:

“Joy Lynn, who now co-owns the Whipple Company Store and has turned it into a museum, told Kline she has had as many 10 women visit the museum who referred to the third-floor space as “the rape room” because that is how the mine guards forced the women to pay for their shoes. “They would have to keep their mouths shut tight about what had happened to them upstairs,” Lynn said, because the mining companies would threaten to kick them out of their company-owned houses.”

[…]

Consider the time – this is when the free market was actually very close to being free – unhindered by government and all of its nasty regulations.  This was also before the time of much of labour organization in the US.  Unbridled power in any one segment of society leads to exploitation and abuse of people, yet as we stumble forward in the humble-bumble forced march of neo-liberalism, these are the sorts of conditions that await us.

“Since the publication of his article on Esau in Appalachian Heritage, Kline writes that “numerous accounts of institutionalized forced sexual servitude in the coal fields have surfaced.”

A woman from West Virginia told Harris and Kline a story about her great-grandmother who was “rented” to coal company agents at the age of 12. She would spend four to six months at a time in sexual servitude in coal camps. “And if the girls had babies, the babies would be taken and sold,” the woman said.

The girls and young women who were taken from their homes in West Virginia were called “comfort girls” or “comfort wives” during their time in servitude. The Japanese government followed the same model, forcing Korean and Chinese woman to work as “comfort women” during World War II. Japan has refused to apologize for forcing the women into sexual servitude, claiming the women were voluntary prostitutes. In West Virginia, state officials have never acknowledged the existence of this formal system of sexual servitude.

The West Virginia woman interviewed by Harris and Kline said her great-grandmother felt so desperate at the time that she did not have any qualms about selling her own babies. “I mean, if you’re a woman and the only thing you have to make money with is your body, and you end up pregnant, you can’t afford to feed that baby. So what are you going to do?” she said.

A woman who needed another week’s worth of groceries or needed new shoes would pay with their own bodies, the woman said.

“My sense is they weren’t ashamed,” Harris said about the exploited women. “It wasn’t something they were embarrassed about. It was very much in the same vein as the men going into the coal mine and taking risks they had no business taking. It’s like you do what you have to do to feed your family. They didn’t talk about it, but they certainly weren’t ashamed of it. Why would you be ashamed of feeding your kids?”

This is the sort of exploitation unfettered and unregulated capitalism can bring to people;  it should not be a set of conditions that we aspire recreate.

[Quotes from Mark Hands essay: ‘Rape Rooms’: How West Virginia Women Paid Off Coal Company Debts. (via Counterpunch)]

Advertisements