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South Korean former sex slaves renew calls for Japan to apologize

Originally published in:
Mainichi Daily News (Japan)

NEW YORK -- It was a moonlit night in the autumn of 1943 when Yong Soo Lee experienced the darkest moment of her life -- Japanese soldiers snatched her from her home in southeast South Korea. At age 15, she was to become a sex slave for two years in a camp in Taiwan that housed 300 soldiers.
"I was an innocent girl, a daughter of Korea -- and that was my sin," she told a crowd of 40 women on Saturday through a translator, as she wept.

Yong, 78, and another former sex slave, Kim Ok Sun, 83, are touring the United States as part of a campaign to pressure Japan to apologize to and compensate "comfort women" who were used to provide sex for its troops during World War II. The two women were hosted by V-Day, a women's anti-violence group that kicked off a campaign to promote the cause.

Historians say up to 200,000 Asian women were forced to service millions of Japanese soldiers before and during the war. Several lawsuits in recent years sought reparation.

"I can't forgive the Japanese government. The Japanese Prime Minister must come to me and ask for forgiveness," Yong said.
Tokyo acknowledged in the 1990s that its military set up and ran brothels for its troops, but Japan has rejected most compensation claims, saying they were settled by postwar treaties.

According to Heisoo Shin of the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sex Slavery by Japan, 210 former sex slaves have come forward with their stories. The council was established in 1990 to help survivors speak out.
Heisoo said almost half of the survivors died since the first victim went public in 1991. Currently, there are 119 survivors registered with the government and they receive monthly subsidies.

The other visiting survivor, Kim, told of how soldiers snatched her at age 15 amid the screams of her brother and mother. She and her neighbor were thrown in a dirty truck packed with 15 other girls and later shipped to Taiwan.

"I was raped and totally violated," she said, vividly recounting the details of her eight-year enslavement. "It was so painful, I could hear the cracking. And then all I saw was blood."

At times, up to seven girls were being raped in one room, as soldiers waiting outside shouted, "What's taking so long?" Kim said, adding that one of the other captives died after she was raped by as many as 100 soldiers, another committed suicide and two became insane.

When she finally returned home in 1946, she could not tell her family what happened -- but they figured out when an infection required her uterus to be removed.

Both Kim and Yong live alone today. They could never marry.
"For a woman, once her body is violated, it's very hard to feel alive again," Yong said. "I think of my body as something dirty, and that's how I think of myself."

They joined forces with the other survivors and have been protesting outside the Japanese embassy in Seoul every Wednesday since 1992.

The campaign distributed postcards calling for the blockage of Japan's bid for a U.N. Security Council seat until a formal apology has been made.

"We're old women, but before the last one dies, we want you to join our fight," Yong said. "I want us to end the sex violence so that we can live in peace."

Susan Celia Swan, a V-Day spokeswoman, said despite the fact that violence against "comfort women" happened a long time ago, it is still relevant today.

"This issue ties to sex slavery and violence against women in conflict zones today," she said. "It's a story that must be told again and again to help raise awareness." (AP)

For more information on V-Day’s 2006 Spotlight, visit