Mon, Dec 18, 2000 - Page 9 News List

Sexism and racism underlined Japan's comfort women system


Fifty-five years after the end of World War II, survivors of Japan's military sexual slavery system -- the so-called "comfort women" system -- have eventually begun to speak out about their trauma and demand justice.

The war ended, yet the suffering of the victims of Japan's military sexual violence has never come to an end. For decades of silence, they have struggled to cope with the physical and emotional consequences of their enslavement: disease, debilitating injuries, sterility, and psychological trauma.

Having been a comfort woman, or a sexual slave is such a stigma that few of the survivors at the end of their enslavement lived a normal life after returning from services at comfort stations.

They had difficulty getting married or in frequent cases divorces were inevitable once their husbands got to know about their past. The inhuman treatment at the comfort stations also led to many of them becoming sterile.

The women, also have constant feelings of shame, regarding themselves as "dirty" and "stained" for having been a sexual slave.

Most of them chose to keep their traumatic experiences to themselves, fearing they would face rejection and isolation in their own societies.

But for the courage of the former Korean comfort woman Kim Hak-sun in speaking up first in 1991, hundreds of other survivors would not have come forward to expose the history untold for several decades.

By stepping forward to press their own claims for redress, the survivors have redefined their own role in public perceptions of the war (from prostitutes to survivors of sexual slavery).

More importantly, by redefining their own role, the survivors have been able to stop blaming themselves for the horrendous past, and have become able to realize it is the perpetrators who should feel ashamed.

A story of all

"I lost my life. I was regarded as a dirty woman. I had no means of supporting myself and I suffered terribly. The next generation of Japanese people must know that their parents did such bad things," said Teng Kao Pao-chu, a Taiwanese survivor of Japan's military sexual slavery.

As a 17-year-old, Teng Kao Pao-chu was conscripted to be a comfort woman in 1938.

She knew that, unlike most of the conscripted girls with her, she would become a comfort woman before she was sent to the comfort station in Guangdong, China.

However, she could not resist the order from the local authorities under control of Japan as those who did suffered horrible consequences, she knew too well.

First she was sent provide sex "services" to Japanese soldiers in Guangdong, then she was transported to Hong Kong, Singapore, and finally settled in Burma with the Japanese army.

Confined in a small "comfort center" in the mountains of Burma, every day she worked from 9:00am. to 5:00pm. During that time she had to have sexual intercourse with at least five or six Japanese soldiers.

She saw her fellow women get pregnant but still being forced to work until six or seven month into their time. Only during menstruation could the women be spared from the work.

To prevent spread of sexually transmitted diseases, condoms were distributed to them for their clients' use. Once a week, the army doctor would carry out health checks on the comfort women to ensure they were not infected with venereal disease.

In the remote mountains of Burma, she had no way to escape but could only hope that by any chance she would be set free.

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