As Another "Comfort Woman" Dies, The Window For Reparation Grows Ever-Smaller

Illustration for article titled As Another Comfort Woman Dies, The Window For Reparation Grows Ever-Smaller

Jung Yoon-hong, one of the few remaining "comfort women" — Korean women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War II — has died, leaving only 79 women to fight for their long-denied compensation.


Although it's unclear exactly how many comfort women survive (since many are believed to have refused to admit to it, out of shame) the number of those, like Jung, who protested for compensation is growing smaller every year; nine women died in 2010 alone. For several years, Jung lived in one of the houses established by the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, and was a regular participants in protests outside Seoul's Japanese Embassy. Said a representative from the Council, "The strain of time is upon the government and our society to make efforts [to remunerate these women] as soon as possible."


To date, there have been reports of Japanese military "Comfort Stations" in Korea, China, Japan and Philippines, as well as Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan and Indonesia. The question is still highly controversial, and the level of government involvement and coercion is hotly debated in Japan. Due to a lack of documentation — many documents were burned during the latter stages of the war — former Prime Minister Abe Hiroshi stated that there was no basis for a formal written apology or monetary compensation. And while the government has apologized since 1995, it denies any official involvement in the comfort stations. Nevertheless, the Japanese government has created an Asia Women's Fund which is funded by donations. Women like Jung feel this is insufficient — particularly in lieu of an apology.

Japan's Responsibility Toward Comfort Women Survivors [Japan Policy Research Institute]
Korea's 'Comfort Women': The Slaves' Revolt [Independent]
The Politics Of Apology For Japan's ‘Comfort Women' [NY Times]

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This is not intended as a derailing comment descending into "me, me, me" and I hope it will be assessed as relevant to the discussion.

I am a South Korean adoptee living in a large affluent Western country. When I was in high school, we had a student exchange with a sister school in Japan, and my family hosted one of the girls for the term. I was in complete denial about being anything other than a true-blue Australian as an adolescent, and to be perfectly frank had not at all considered the sensitive cultural implications of being an Australian-Korean host family to a Japanese student. I know, that's fucking horrible. My parents totally had, but decided to let me think things through by myself.

I rapidly realised that things were slightly strange between the Japanese girl and I, and it wasn't helped by the fact that that term our social studies class was dealing with World War II. But one night doing homework together, she actually initiated discussion about Japan's involvement, wanting to know what Australian students were taught, and telling me what Japanese students were taught, and she actually brought up the comfort women thing.

My parents dug out an old video they'd taped off TV of a documentary from the 80s about a group of Korean "comfort women" who met with a group of Japanese women to talk about their experiences, and we watched it together, with her translating to me the bits in Japanese that the documentary hadn't translated. We both ended up in floods of tears.

A few years ago, I was involved in a production of 'The Vagina Monologues', and was asked to do the 'My vagina was my village' monologue as a Korean "comfort woman" as opposed to Ensler's original intent of a survivor of the Kosovo rape camps. I thought about it, but felt that would be derailing Ensler's original intent, although as part of my production design for the show, the actress did this monologue against a projected slide show of photographs and statistics of women from all around the world sexually victimised in war, including the Korean and other comfort women, and the introduction to the monologue was rewritten to specifically mention the comfort women of World War II.

Afterwards, we had people tell us that while they knew about the Australian and Dutch women systematically raped by the Japanese military, they had no idea that Korean and Chinese women made up the majority of the victims of this particular heinous war crime.