Korean ‘Comfort Women’ to share traumatic stories of WWII sexual enslavement by Japanese

In a rare U.S. appearance, two Korean "Comfort Women" survivors will be at SMU on April 22 for the Embrey Human Rights Program’s “Evening With Kang Il-Chul and Lee Ok-Seon.”

DALLAS (SMU) – During World War II, the Japanese military abducted, tricked or coerced as many as 200,000 women for use as sex slaves, euphemistically called “comfort women.” Most were from occupied Korea, with others from China, Southeast Asia and Europe – and two-thirds were killed or died after their abuse.

In a rare U.S. appearance, two of the survivors will be at SMU on Friday, April 22, for the Embrey Human Rights Program’s “Evening With Kang Il-Chul and Lee Ok-Seon,” held in partnership with Seoul, South Korea’s House of Sharing, an assisted living home where Il-Chul and Ok-Seon and five others find support.

The free public event will begin with a 6:30 p.m. reception featuring Korean food and dance tributes, followed by a 7:15 p.m. discussion in McCord Auditorium, Room 306 of Dallas Hall, 3225 University Blvd.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for those in the SMU and Dallas community to hear two of less than 50 surviving victims of Japanese military sexual slavery,” says Embrey Human Rights Program Director Rick Halperin. “Their powerful stories of exploitation and courage deserve to be heard – and the atrocities inflicted on them remembered and never repeated.”

Military brothels, referred to as “comfort stations,” were used by the Japanese government from 1932-1945, ostensibly to boost soldier morale and prevent the rape of women in occupied territories. Most of the women forced to work in the brothels – primarily poor, single and uneducated teens – often were taken at gunpoint from their homes or forced into sexual slavery after responding to advertisements for factory work or nursing jobs.

After the war, survivors kept quiet to avoid ostracism, but in 1991, after the first “comfort woman” spoke publicly, 250 others courageously followed suit.

Il-Chul, 89, was 16 and living with her family in Seoul when Japanese military police forced her into “conscription” in 1943. For the next two years, she was enslaved in occupied China and forced to have sex with 10 to 20 Japanese soldiers a day in makeshift brothels on the front lines of the war.

“I was punched and beaten so much that my body was covered in bruises. I still get headaches,” she told The Guardian newspaper in 2012. She also is featured in the just-released South Korean film “Spirits Homecoming,” a gut-wrenching drama about the wartime atrocities.

90-year-old Ok-Seon was 14 when she was abducted from a Busan, South Korean, street before being sent to a “comfort station” in China. “It was not a place for human beings. It was a slaughter house,” she said of her three-year ordeal. “When the war was over, others were set free, but not me.” Though she married, her family wanted nothing to do with her out of shame.

Since that time the dwindling number of sex-slavery survivors – affectionately called halmoni, or “grandmother” – join other activists in Seoul for weekly “Wednesday Demonstrations” near a haunting sculpture of a young woman, her face full of innocence, who is seated alone – and facing the Japanese Embassy. While Japan announced in December 2015 it would pay $8.3 million to South Korea to help restore the “dignity” of the women forced to work as sex slaves, some brothel victims consider the action too little too late, and call for direct apologies and compensation.

For more details about this and other Embrey Human Rights Program events, click here or call 214-768-8347.