‘Comfort women’ deserve greater recognition for traumas

Elaine Sine, co-opinions editor

On Dec. 28, 2015, I discovered Japan and Korea’s agreement to settle a 70-year dispute of Japan’s sexual enslavement of South Korean women. Optimism and exhilaration ballooned within me.

A bit of history to understand what this column is about: About 200,000 women were captured and enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Army as “comfort women” (a euphemism for sex slaves made by the Japanese) until the end of World War II, according to Amnesty International.

Coming from a South Korean family, I’ve heard so many stories about the sexual slavery that haunted the Korean generations since World War II: the rape, the abuse, and the difficulty of living without an apology for the women’s sufferings. The happiness I felt for my family’s country lightened the unresolved grievance on my heart.

Finally, according to the New York Times, the Japanese government officially planned to apologize, pay $8.3 million in reparations (for the provision of the comfort women), and the 46 remaining sexual slavery survivors in South Korea can distinguish a peace with the pain they’ve been suffering their entire lifetimes. The other comfort women who passed away would become martyrs of this historic moment; I felt grateful to be one of the many living witnesses to this landmark occasion that ends the age-old dispute.

Or so I thought. My period of celebration was cut short when I dug deeper into the issue. This deal wasn’t carved from the genuine forgiveness and guilt that I’d originally thought it was. It was a half-hearted political gesture.

Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipino, Malaysian, Indonesian, Dutch, East Timorese, Vietnamese, Thai, Burmese, American and even Japanese women were poisoned by the terror-filling, inhumane and forever life-ruining actions of the Japanese army when the women were forced into sex slavery.

Japan had not apologized to South Korea for the women’s sex slavery until now, but there’s a lot wrong with this agreement between the countries. One of the greatest ironies with this Japan-South Korea deal? The comfort women weren’t even part of the negotiations, according to NPR.

In a CBS Nocutnews video, Lee Yong-Su, sexual slavery survivor, challenges Lim Sung-Nam, Seoul Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, when he comes to visit. Yung-Su’s heart-wrenching pain and anger at this political settlement is underscored and captured clearly, but the one moment that most vibrantly resonates with me is when she cries out: “Why are you killing us twice?”

She weeps at the fact the South Korean government failed to acknowledge the survivors. Sung-Nam attempts to justify the government’s decision, that this was, but Yung-Su’s words continue to ring in my ears.

The lack of genuine sympathy on both sides enrages me. It’s a crime against humanity.

According to Amnesty International, Lee Ok-sun, a sexual slavery survivor, contracted diseases that affected her ability to have children, and the psychological trauma was unbearable for her.

“I couldn’t even think about having a baby,” Ok-sun said.

So, for these thousands and thousands of women whose lives were inconsolably ruined, how can you not let them speak for their sufferings? Where is the genuine sincerity in all of this?

Is it in the agreed upon terms that this is, as said in the Washington Post, the “final and irrevocable resolution,” despite its inconsideration and ignorance of the women brutally assaulted and/or murdered from this sexual slavery atrocity? Is it in the condition that South Korea has to remove the statue representing the sexual slavery survivors in front of Seoul’s Japanese Embassy?

During interviews with Amnesty International, many of the women, not just Korean, tore off their garments and showed the interviewers the scars imprinting the memory of abuses: “a breast where a soldier had beaten a woman with a hot spatula, a vagina where penetration had been brutal and relentless or feet that had been bound with tight ropes.”

I was glad that South Korean “comfort women” have finally gotten their pain acknowledged, but what about the thousands of other women who were incessantly raped over and over and scarred from this terror for the rest of their lives?

Lola Maxima can still freshly remember her experiences, physically acting out the horrors she endured: “clawing, screaming, falling onto the floor, crawling in an attempt to get away, curling up into a ball”.

These psychological traumas are ones with which we are not familiar, but which are branded and sharply etched into the memories, muscles and futures of these women. As humans, how can we be so heartless to ignore that?

I recognize that South Korea and Japan’s agreement assists in the process of collectively securing greater safety from current threats, such as North Korea’s nuclear weapon program, according to the New York Times. However, the lack of compassion that laces this political arrangement is disgraceful.

Even though I’m not a born-and-raised South Korean, I am human enough to realize that South Korea’s women deserve the respect of a voice in this disingenuous settlement. This fight for humanity, for all survivors from each afflicted country, is not over.