“Comfort women were essential”
Sanne van Oosten
Yesterday, the mayor of the Japanese Osaka said that the comfort women, who were forced into prostitution during the Pacific War, were essential back then. They were useful in keeping the soldier disciplined and, above all, they were recruited voluntarily, he said. This rightfully caused a wide range fierce protests. This reminded me of the time we were in Seoul. It was a rainy Wednesday afternoon in and we headed towards the Japanese embassy to see the weekly “Comfort Women Protest.” Since it was raining we were afraid nobody would be there, but the contrary turned out to be true: a large group of men and women of all ages were gathered armed with banners, camera’s, loudspeakers and an army of police.
Comfort woman is a term for women who were forced into sexual slavery for the Japanese during the Japanese occupation across Asia. These young women were abducted from their houses and brought to so called “Comfort Stations,” where they would spend the next couple of years being raped by Japanese soldiers. There were cases of comfort women all over Asia, but the Korean women were targeted the most, as they are ethnically the most like the Japanese and therefore the most popular.
A well-known comfort woman, Kim Bok-dong, is now 87 years old. From the age of 14 she was abducted and raped at least once a day for the next 6 years. She has never had a normal life since, as this trauma haunts her up to today. One way she deals with her trauma is to protest at the Japanese embassy every Wednesday, demanding recognition. But the Japanese government will still not confess what they have done. They still claim, it was even discussed in the Japanese parliament, that these women were willing prostitutes and they weren’t coerced into becoming comfort women.
When we visited the protest we saw one of the former comfort women give a speech. Of course we could not understand a word she was saying as she was speaking Korean, but we could hear the emotion in her voice. Even without a translation, it was very moving. All she is asking for is recognition, someone who says, you were wronged, you didn’t deserve this. The last thing she deserves is to be called a prostitute, someone who asked for what happened to her.
But recognition from the Japanese is the very last thing she is getting. Every Wednesday, the curtains of the Japanese embassy are shut. They won’t acknowledge what happened to them. They won’t set it right.
Every single woman who has gone through rape has to deal with immense shame issues. It is common for rape victims to feel as if they deserved it. They’ll think things like: I should have fought harder, I shouldn’t have worn that skirt, I shouldn’t have gone out on that date with him, I shouldn’t have laughed at his stupid jokes. These feelings overwhelm the rape-victims mind and prevent her from dealing with her pain without shame, a feat hard enough in itself. Most of the comfort women were actually only girls when they were abducted and don’t carry an inch of the fault, but nevertheless, shame is an overwhelming feeling in all rape victims, no matter the context of the rape.
Covered in shame the Korean comfort women didn’t dare to protest what happened to them until 1992. And when they protest, they protest hard. Ever since 1992 a group of people gathers in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul, no matter the weather, cold, heat, rain or shine. Since 2011 a statue of a girl staring at the Japanese embassy was erected as a permanent reminder of what happened and what the Japanese still haven’t owned up to. These women are so courageous, they are no longer ashamed of what happened to them and they know where the shame belongs: at the culprits. Only 63 comfort women are still alive. In 2011 alone, 16 comfort women died, and their numbers are declining more heavily every year. Time is running out.