In this essay, I explore the difficulties of conceptualizing and implementing compensation for Korean comfort women by focusing on the problematic and anxious relationship between two concepts: women's “well-being/welfare” and “shame.” I investigate what these comfort women are imagined to be entitled to, and why, and how mobilization around the issue of comfort women not only was defined by the nascent women's movement in Korea but also delimited the configurations of those movements. In this effort, I identify women's “worth,” “subjecthood,” and “citizenship” as the main concepts around which many debates and controversies revolve. By focusing on the “special” nature not only of sexual crime but also of suffering as a result of it, I argue that genuine compensation for the victims of structural and catastrophic violence can be sought only when 1) one steps outside the framework of modesty, dignity, virtue, and shame, and 2) one approaches compensation as a form of punishment that fits the crime, rather than as sympathy payment. Further, the “crime” committed against these women has to include not only the sexual violations perpetrated during their confinement in comfort stations but also the patriarchal, colonial, and militaristic devaluation and dehumanization inflicted on them before, during, and after that period that provides the context for the crime.

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