WRITTEN BY BLANCA ARCAYOS
CW: This column discusses themes of sexual assault and sexual violence.
Winston Churchill said that history is written by the victors. Unfortunately, this is the way the Japanese government have attempted to erase their dark history of sexual enslavement to women in several Asian countries during World War II. During the war, the Japanese established buildings called “comfort stations” in previously Japanese occupied countries throughout Asia. These countries include South Korea, China, the Philippines and many more. Comfort stations served as government-issued “brothels”, but calling them brothels implies these women consented to be there. The truth is the Japanese government allowed their soldiers to commit mass rape to thousands of women.
Every woman who was forced to face this atrocity has a different story. One of the common ways the government would entrap these women, was to offer them “factory jobs”. Unbeknownst to them, they would wake up in a different town or a different country. This is what happened to Kim Bok-Dong, a comfort woman victim.
Through researching this topic, I was shocked to find that the Philippines suffered through this part of history. I was aware that the Philippines was Japanese occupied at the time and assumed acts of sexual assault happened but, to see evidence of this hit close to home as this is the country where I was born. A confronting detail I found through my research, was the existence of a “comfort station” which was in the same town where I grew up as a child in the Philippines.
Maria Rosa Henson was a comfort woman victim of Japanese occupied Philippines. She was a prominent figure in speaking out about this dark part of history and has written books based on her experience. Most comfort women victims carried this trauma for decades. They have carried their past through relationships, marriages and children. Henson’s husband and children never knew this happened to Henson until she decided to tell her story in 1992.
The Japanese government have attempted to apologise for these war crimes and have offered reparations for some victims. In terms of accountability, in the above Asian Boss video of Kim Bok-Dong you don’t have to scroll very far to read comments from Japanese students saying that they had no idea about this part of history.
Kim Bok-Dong was one of the last surviving comfort women victims at the time the mentioned video was published. She passed away on January 28 of this year and never received an apology from the Japanese government. She died at 92 years old.
From where we stand in 2019, as a woman there are many things to celebrate but we must also remember the past. A majority of these women have sadly passed away, but their truth lives on. Because every woman has a story and every woman can empathise with their suffering.
Women want visibility and accountability. Women want to live in a world where this suffering does not happen to more women. Everyone’s heard of the phrase, “history repeats itself” so, how do we prevent this if it’s not written and taught as part of history? How do we prevent future leaders from actioning this level of atrocity? How will teachers pass on the message to students? How will parents inform their children of our mistakes in the past?
This is one issue. Bringing the population awareness to one issue can help solve the bigger picture. It’s up to everyone to listen and strive for better.
National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service, 1800RESPECT
Lifeline, 13 11 14
Blanca is the Editorial Manager for Maidenhair Press. She deals with mostly behind the scenes of the magazine. She also dabbles in some writing with columns and reviews each issue. She loves all things Film & TV, as well as beauty and fashion.