June 28, 2008

Sexual Slavery

-Visiting with two of the remaining 7 harmoni (grandmothers).-

I was introduced to a blood chilling fact about our world the other day. It's not often that my easy life is interrupted in such a manner that makes me sit up and take notice. Let me be clear, this is NOT a blog for young readers!! The following blog is about Comfort Women. In other words, the sexual slavery forced upon thousands of women by the Japanese military beginning in 1932.

As we all know, back in WWII Japan had a huge grip on Asia. In fact at that time they had usurped control of the Korean peninsula and their military was widely spread through the continent. I've always had a vague idea that all wars are bad and that terrible things happen in war, things that are never spoken of and things that men, and nations for that matter, spend their lives trying to cover up. What I am about to relay is just one of those incidents which makes this last realization just a little stronger.

-In English:
We must not forget these things that were forced upon us.-

During WWII, the Japanese soldiers were known for raping and killing mass amounts of women and children in their occupied areas. The mass rapings were becoming so wide spread that the Japanese government had decided something had to be done about the 'situation'. What was their solution? Comfort Stations. A systematic ring of sexual slavery.

Now the Japanese officials claimed that Comfort Stations were places set up where men could go when they needed to be intimate with a woman. They believed that these stations would curb their troops rampages and lighten the rebellions of the locals. Yet, the stations were so much more than a harem and the term comfort is a blatant mockery of what happened there.

-A snapshot retrieved of four comfort women and a grinning soldier. Notice the one is pregnant; babies were aborted, poisoned or killed upon birth.-

According to research between 100,000 - 300,000 women, some as young as 10 years old, were kidnapped from nearly every nation in Asia, the majority of women coming from Korea. There were even 10 Dutch women among the count. It is recorded that some families were persuaded to sell their own daughters to the army for a small fee. The families were told that their girls would be put to work in Japan in a factory or some such arrangement. They believed that they would be better off there being clothed and fed.

According to Unit 731 soldier Yasuji Kaneko, "The women cried out, but it didn't matter to us whether the women lived or died. We were the emperor's soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance."(Wikipedia)

These women that were taken were beaten, starved, brainwashed, enslaved, maimed,
many were killed, and all were forced to work in 'Comfort Stations' serving up to 40 men a day. Stabbings and beatings were seen as mercies in comparison to some of the treatment that they received. These stations were set up all over Asia, ranging from Indonesia and Thailand right up through China, Russia and down into Japan.

-A typical room in a Comfort Station.-

When the war ended, these women were dropped in the streets to fend for themselves. Forgotten about and disowned. Many just disappeared. Some not speaking the language, none with family and many so emotionally abused that they had no idea what country they were originally from. I was told that the United Nations picked of the pieces and cared for these women the best that they could but they really had little idea of where to place them and what had become of their families. Many remain in the countries were the Japanese left them.

-Each wooden tag on the wall has a name on it. If the name was showing, the woman was available. If the name was not showing she was busy, in her later stages of pregnancy or had an STD.-

In the recent past some of these women within South Korea have come forth, publicly sharing their experiences. The act of admitting what had been forced upon them was one of enormous proportions. As in many Asian countries family is the most important thing and saving face is crucial. So, according to the strong Asian culture present in Korea, the women who have admitted to being forced into this abuse have often been defaced and publicly humiliated because of the hurt it brings upon their family name. Because of their traditions and the fear of once again losing their families, the few that are still living may very well hold their secrets to the grave and never come forth.

-Every Wednesday at noon, for over 800 Wednesdays, the women who are feeling well enough head into Seoul to demonstrate at the Japanese embassy.-

And, out of a small handful of the women, about 50 altogether, who had admitted this abuse and who had banded together back in the nineties, only 7 are still living. And, it was these 7 women that I had the chance to visit. Upon arriving at their place in the country, The Sharing House, I expected anger and rage from these little old women. Anger about what had been forced upon them and rage at the Japanese government for refusing to admit to the heinous war crimes that they committed against these innocent women. Yet, what I found were not angry little old ladies but active grandmothers, working well into their 80's to bring publicity to the plight of the 'Comfort Women'. Publicity, they say, so that the world will not repeat the same mistake twice.

A list of what the harmoni or grandmothers want:

Seven simple demands
  1. To admit the drafting of Japanese military comfort women!
  2. Apologize officially!
  3. Reveal the truth about the crime!
  4. Erect memorial tablets for the victims!
  5. Pay restitution to the victims or their families!
  6. Teach the truth about this so that you do not commit the same crimes!
  7. Punish the war criminals!
-Thousands upon thousands of paper cranes sent from a Japanese elementary school.-

I was shocked by all of this. I was having a hard time altering my worldview and a hard time making sense of what I was hearing. I was appalled by the injustices of this world, by the brutality and by the inhumanity. But what took my breath away was this: of all the visitors that the old women receive, the majority of them are Japanese. Thousands of school children write every year to apologize for the crimes of their grandfathers and one Japanese man has kindly devoted his life to serving these women, he has forsaken his freedom to lives in the harmoni community and make reparations for his fathers.

-Portraits of the survivors.-

For more information:


Jen said...

Well written Rachel. Thanks for sharing their stories with your readers.

Hilary said...

Good blog, Rach!

Kirstin said...

Well done, Rachel. You had me in tears.

Anonymous said...

Quite the blog article on sexual slavery. Nasty. It's hard to even put one's emotions on paper so I won't even try. War is a horrible thing, I am so grateful for those who have gone ahead and fought for our freedom.

righthere.rightnow. said...

incredible story rachel... what else is there to say? Thank you for letting us know about it.