'Comfort women' recount wartime ordeals


Three women forced to work in Japan’s wartime military brothels have been speaking out about their ordeals, saying the world should never forget what they went through.

In recent interviews, the Indonesian, Filipina and Korean women repeated that they were the victims of systematic abduction and sexual slavery conducted by Imperial Japanese soldiers, despite counter-claims from some quarters in Japan itself.

“The most important thing is the stories of the victims themselves. The Japanese government should listen to my story and investigate the matter,” said 85-year-old South Korean Lee Yong Soo, who has become a symbol of the sex slaves in Korea — a group euphemistically known in Japan as the “ianfu,” or “comfort women.”

No official documents have so far been recovered to prove that the Imperial Japanese Army systematically abducted women and forced them into sexual slavery on the Korean Peninsula, but the issue remains a significant source of friction between Japan and South Korea.

Lee, who lives in Daegu, said late last month she was forcibly taken from her home in fall 1944 by a man in military uniform and transported to a station for comfort women in Taiwan, where the Imperial Japanese military held her in sexual slavery.

But shortly after she went public in 1992, she appeared to contradict her testimony, saying the man had given her clothes and leather shoes, details that suggested she might have willingly followed him. Lee has since said her remarks were poorly translated, adding that she had sometimes omitted details when relating her experiences.

Hilaria Bustamante, an 88-year-old former comfort woman in the Philippines went public about her ordeal in 1995. In an interview, she said she stands by her testimony.

Bustamante said she was abducted in 1943 at age 17 in Hermosa, northwest of Manila.

She said a truckload of Japanese soldiers stopped and forced her aboard. They took her to a garrison and three soldiers raped her.

“How can I believe that the Japanese military’s wartime sexual slavery was not organized when there were three other women already there when I arrived?” she said.

She said her ordeal included having to do the soldiers’ laundry and cooking, and being raped at night.

At times “more than five men would rape me in one night,” she said. She and the other women were kept there for almost a year.

Bustamante later received a letter of apology from the then prime minister and “atonement money” from the private Asian Women’s Fund, set up at the government’s initiative in 1995 to collect private donations to finance humanitarian measures for former comfort women. The fund ran through 2007.

“Until we make the Japanese government accountable, and until it admits the existence of the comfort women, we will not stop,” Bustamante said.

Some Indonesian women, too, say they suffered similar experiences. The AWF disbursed no money to individual Indonesian women but instead supported an initiative to build welfare facilities for victims and other elderly women.

Miyem, a woman in her 80s who goes by only one name, recounted being abducted by Japanese soldiers while working on a farm. There were several dozens of other girls.

“I was forced to have sex day and night for about three months. I was beaten and kicked and physically and emotionally worn out,” said Miyem, who lives in the outskirts of Yogyakarta on Java Island.

Bustamante and Miyem said they received no payment during their time as slaves. It remains unknown whether Lee got paid.

Coronavirus banner