ANNANDALE, VIRGINIA – An unveiling ceremony was held Sunday near Washington for a statue of a girl dedicated to Korean women who worked in Japanese wartime military brothels, referred to as the “comfort women,” making it the fifth of its kind in the United States.
The term comfort women is a euphemism used to refer to women who provided sex, including those who did so against their will, for Japanese troops before and during World War II.
The life-size statue symbolizing the women now sits on the front lawn of a commercial building in Annandale, Virginia, where many Korean Americans live. It took about three years to find a permanent home for the work, which was initially hoped to be sited in the U.S. capital itself, according to civic groups that organized the event.
The statue is a “physical and ongoing reminder of the past wrongdoing and inaction of the Japanese government to the demands by the victims … an official apology and legal reparation,” said Jungsil Lee, president of the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues, at the ceremony.
Japan and South Korea have been locked in a protracted row over the former comfort women, an issue related to Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule of the Korean Peninsula.
The two countries reached an agreement in 2015 said to “finally and irreversibly” resolve their dispute, but the South Korean government later concluded that the negotiation process had been flawed amid domestic criticism that the victims’ demands were not reflected in the deal.
Gil Won-ok, a survivor in her 90s, said at the ceremony that her “youth and dreams” were taken away at the age of 13 when she was forced into a Japanese military brothel in China. She also criticized the Japanese government for failing to issue a “sincere apology.”
Statues of a seated girl symbolizing comfort women called “Statues of Peace” have been erected in several countries since 2011, when the first was unveiled in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. After the signing of the 2015 accord, Japan urged South Korea to remove the statue.
In the United States, similar statues have been erected in California, Georgia, Michigan and New York, according to Lee. Other memorials to comfort women, including statues, have also been erected elsewhere.
Lee said she hopes the statue will also serve as an educational cornerstone for women’s rights and dignity, while helping to pass on wartime memories to the next generation.