WASHINGTON, July 31, 2013- Former “comfort women” band together for support and to make sure that the world does not forget the horrors inflicted on them over seven decades ago. However, Japan refuses to apologize and even tries to block the unveiling of a memorial to comfort women in California.
Women and girls forced into sex slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army during World War II, comfort women came from China, the Philippines, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia.
Exact figures of how many women were forced into prostitution and sex slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army are unknown, estimates ranging from 20,000 to 410,000, depending on the source. The real number is somewhere in between probably around 250,000.
According to survivor testimony, women and girls in Japanese-occupied territories were abducted or lured with promises of work and money. They were then transported to foreign lands and incarcerated in “comfort stations,” where Japanese soldiers would repeatedly rape them.
Historians estimate that nearly three quarters of comfort women died during their captivity. Inside the comfort stations, women were routinely beaten and tortured; those who got pregnant were forced to have abortions; those who contracted syphilis had their uteruses removed.
Many of the survivors contracted venereal diseases or were left sterile from repeated rape and sexual trauma.
The issue of comfort women was one that was largely ignored after World War II, until accounts began to surface in the 1960s and 70s. In 1993, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yohei Kono, issued the Kono Statement, an apology to comfort women.
However, the Statement has been highly criticized by Japanese conservatives. In 2007 the Japanese government announced, “no evidence was found that the Japanese army or the military officials seized the women by force.”
Today very few of the survivors are still alive, and many are in their late 80s and 90s. These women have found support and understanding in several survivors’ groups that have sprung up in many countries.
“An apology is the most important thing we want—an apology that comes from the government, not only a personal one—because this would give us back our dignity,” said Jan Ruff O’Herne, 84, who testified to a Congressional panel in 2007.
When Japan invaded Java, then the Dutch East Indies, in 1942, Ruff and her family were forced into a prison camp. In 1944 Japanese officers took her and nine other Dutch girls to a comfort station, where she remained for four months. Ruff was 21 years old.
The few women left alive today echo Ruff’s request for an apology. Instead, the Japanese government refuses to give them any recognition. Survivors still gather weekly outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
“For soldiers who risked their lives in circumstances where bullets are flying around like rain and wind, if you want them to get some rest, a comfort women system was necessary. That’s clear to anyone,” said Toru Hashimoto, mayor of Osaka, in a highly publicized statement last May.
Angered by the comment, members of Lila Pilipina, a survivors’ group, petitioned the Philippine government to issue a diplomatic protest against Hashimoto. However, fearful of straining economic ties with Japan, the Philippine government only went as far as to recommend that Japanese officials use tact when commenting on comfort women.
The Japanese government refuses to back off. Just last week, the Japanese consulate general in Los Angeles contacted government officials in Glendale, California, voicing their disapproval of a monument dedicated to Korean comfort women scheduled to be unveiled next week on public property.
In a press conference on Wednesday, Kuni Sato, press secretary for the Japanese foreign ministry, stated that the statue does not accurately depict history. Moreover, according to Sato, the Japanese government felt that it had already made reparations to survivors by providing compensation through a private fund.
What Mr. Sato failed to mention, however, was that the fund has been dissolved since 2007, and many women refused compensation, asking only for a public apology instead. The apology has and does not appear to be forthcoming from the Japanese government.
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