Comfort Women

I've just finished a memoir about the two years that I spent in Hong Kong in the 1960s.  I still log on occasionally to the South China Morning Post (SCMP) to scan the news.

An article just before the 2016 New Year, highlighted some unfinished business from World War II.   The Japanese Government had reached a landmark agreement to resolve the comfort women issue with the South Korean Government, Comfort women being a euphemism for girls dragooned into Japanese military brothels.

'Silenced No More'

In 2015, Sylvia Friedman, a Hong Kong based author, published her book, Silenced No More: Voices of Comfort Women.  She documented the heartrending stories of lives ripped apart in the most barbaric way and the duplicity of Governments on both sides of the original conflict.

Sex-Trafficking sanctioned by Imperial Japan

The Imperial Japanese war machine set up the brothels as their World War II campaigns moved through Burma, Ceylon, India, Thailand, Indochina, Malaya, Singapore and Hong Kong.  The reticence of the survivors make it hard to quantify, but some believe the provision of comfort women to brothels is the largest episode of sex-trafficking known in modern history.   

Military mindfulness

Japanese army commanders wanted to stop their troops raping women in the areas they occupied.  They didn't need any more local hostility and they didn't want pillow talk.

They had good reason to curtail loose gossip.  Tokyo pieced together snippets of strategic information about Hong Kong collected from pre-war brothels, bars and dance halls seeded with Japanese informers.  It was invaluable when the time came for their invasion. 

Raw memories

When I lived in Hong Kong in the late 1960s, the Japanese occupation of the Colony during World War ll was still a raw memory.  I didn’t comprehend the depth of the antagonism; it was not my war and I had good Japanese friends.

Nevertheless, we don’t need to take sides to ache for what happened to those women. It’s almost too late for compensation - only a few are left.  What they need most of all is an apology.  They also want their plight to be written into Japanese history text books so their suffering will never be forgotten.

Still the cycle goes on

Yet as I read on, skimming the SCMP webpage, I saw a report that the Daesh has established a department of War Spoils to codify the sexual exploitation of young girls and women taken prisoner in the current battle ground of the Middle East.  Sex slavery condoned all over again.   

It took forty years for the comfort women of South-East Asia to speak up and more than seventy years to get to the recent resolution for some of them.  Today’s newest victims may never gain even that outcome.

When will it ever stop?   

What the comfort women endured and what the women captured in the Middle East are now enduring is a continuing saga of sex slavery.  Perhaps, put in that context, we can all do a little bit to help and feel less powerless.

Journalist, Rahim Kanani, covers really interesting social innovators.  From his interview with Siddharth Kara, an expert on human trafficking and modern day slavery, I learned the US Government spends more money to combat slavery than almost any other government in the world, yet it outlays 350 times more money each year to combat drug trafficking. 

That interview gives some pointers as to how we can help combat human trafficking

The first step is to become aware of what is happening around the world.  Knowledge is power.  Visit Sylvia Friedman’s 852 Freedom Campaign on Facebook and look out for Siddharth Kara’s upcoming film on human trafficking.