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Catalog Archive / Spring 2023

Systemic Silencing
Activism, Memory, and Sexual Violence in Indonesia

Critical Human Rights
Scott Straus and Tyrell Haberkorn, Series Editors
Steve J. Stern, Series Editor Emeritus

“An innovative work with an original, comparative, transnational perspective and impeccable scholarship. The author navigates the history of sexual slavery and human rights activism in Indonesia deftly and with clarity.”
—Saskia Wieringa, University of Amsterdam

Recognizing and addressing enforced military prostitution in occupied Indonesia

The system of prostitution imposed and enforced by the Japanese military during its wartime occupation of several countries in East and Southeast Asia is today well-known and uniformly condemned. Transnational activist movements have sought to recognize and redress survivors of this World War II-era system, euphemistically known as “comfort women,” for decades, with a major wave beginning in the 1990s. However, Indonesian survivors, and even the system’s history in Indonesia to begin with, have largely been sidelined, even within the country itself.

Here, Katharine E. McGregor not only untangles the history of the system during the war, but also unpacks the context surrounding the slow and faltering efforts to address it. With careful attention to the historical, social, and political conditions surrounding sexual violence in Indonesia, supported by exhaustive research and archival diligence, she uncovers a critical piece of Indonesian history and the ongoing efforts to bring it to the public eye. Critically, she establishes that the transnational part of activism surrounding victims of the system is both necessary and fraught, a complexity of geopolitics and international relationships on one hand and a question of personal networks, linguistic differences, and cultural challenges on the other.


Katharine McGregor. Katharine E. McGregor is a professor of Southeast Asian history in the School of Historical and Philosophical Studies at the University of Melbourne. She is co-editor, most recently, of Gender, Violence and Power in Indonesia: Across Time and Space.




“This is an absolutely outstanding work, an important and devastating account of more than a century of Indonesian history. Readers are given the full context of the conditions that made women and girls vulnerable to extreme exploitation once the Japanese army arrived, and then to silencing and shame under successive regimes until the present day.”
—Ruth Barraclough, Australian National University

“The scope and degree of complexity of this book demonstrate McGregor’s accomplishments as a historian, in particular in the field of memory activism. This is also an important book for scholars researching regions of the world outside Asia. This case contributes to our understanding of the historical struggle to control women’s bodies and the long-term barriers to addressing gendered injustice.”
Asian Studies Review

“An excellent new contribution. . . . Well-written and convincingly argued, Systemic Silencing offers an innovative approach to histories of sexual violence, memory and activism in Indonesia.”
Inside Indonesia

“By skillfully situating sexual violence and the human rights movement in the broader context of transnational activism and memory, McGregor breaks new ground in adding much to our understanding of the complex vicissitudes of comfort women. . . . Impeccable. . . . McGregor leaves no stone unturned.”
Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia

“This book provides an important historical account detailing the experience of Indonesian survivors of Japan’s enforced military prostitution policy. As an academic paper, it has been extensively and methodologically researched. . . . Too important not to be shared with a broader audience.”
The Jakarta Post



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August 2023
340 pp. 6 x 9
6 b/w illus

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Cloth $79.95 S
ISBN 9780299344207
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