I heard a report on the radio as I was driving recently, and it set me to thinking:

The mayor of Osaka, Japan, is ending the “sister city” relationship with San Francisco this week, following a dispute over a statue that honors women and girls who were sexually enslaved by Japan’s Imperial Army during World War II.

The statue commemorates “comfort women,” a euphemism for thousands who were forced, coerced and deceived into serving men at brothels near the front lines.

In 1993, Japan conceded that the Imperial Army in World War II had enslaved women, and expressed “sincere apologies and remorse.”

But in recent years, that apology has grown more complex.

I assume that the Japanese want to put the issue behind them. But the report went on to say that activists, family members and descendants of the enslaved and abused women insist it is not enough to simply express regret and make a token payment.

I think that this group is right. It’s important that we understand that human dignity is in question. How painful must it have been to those enslaved and abused women to be subject to the most base or petty whim of a master designated as such by forces in control of their very lives? It had to be more than simply painful; it had to be devastating to the human spirit.

And what have we learned? Today, while some forms of slavery have fallen into disrepute, the phenomenon of women being forced into the sex trade continues in many corners the world, albeit without the imprimatur of a national government, at least as far as we know. Here again, human dignity is traduced, this time for profit.

The fact that such a trade continues in any form, I would argue, means the question of fundamental human dignity—and whether women have it and deserve that it be honored—remains unanswered. Both the organizers behind sexual slavery and its consumers desecrate the personhood of the women they are using and abusing, reducing them to simply chattel.

But it’s not always that obvious. It is difficult, I think, for some to see that despite the increase in awareness and sensitivity in modern times, the implication of continued male dominance and female subjugation in the realm of sexual relations remains. Nothing points more clearly to the untended wounds suffered by women in that arena today than the explosive, near-daily revelations of the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements.

The recent anguished drama over the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court and the accusations brought against him by Christine Blasey Ford provide a timely example of what appears to be a failure of those in power to face the above-mentioned fundamental question squarely. A woman’s credible accusation is met by a man’s angry denial. A full and honest examination of all the relevant facts could possibly provide evidence that would fairly resolve the issue. But that would mean placing the two in a position of equality in a search for justice. Faced with what could conceivably turn out to be a deeply embarrassing political loss, the men in charge chose to forge ahead with their political agenda, leaving the question of the dignity of the woman—and, by extension, that of the women who saw her as their champion—unresolved. Or did it?

How unrelated are powerful forces mandating that women be made the sexual slaves of their army in order to achieve a military goal and powerful forces in a purportedly more humane culture willing to turn a blind eye and deaf ear to a sexual assault victim’s demand for justice in order to achieve a political goal?

Given the harm done and the questions unanswered, it appears to me that Donald Trump, Mitch McConnell, Chuck Grassley, Orrin Hatch, Lindsey Graham, John Cornyn, Brett Kavanaugh and their colleagues have more in common with the Imperial Japanese Army of yesterday, as well as many other male-dominated institutions from past and present, than they may realize.

The treatment of Japan’s “comfort women” amounted to an egregious assault on the dignity of women. As does this more recent incident in the U.S., it leaves questions yet to be resolved.

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