SCMP article: Time running out to hear comfort women’s stories, says Hong Kong author
Fewer than 200 former second world war sex slaves are still alive, says Hong Kong author
PUBLISHED : Sunday, 20 September, 2015 (Here’s the article link)
Fewer than 200 “comfort women” survivors are believed to still be alive, so the need to tell their stories has become more urgent, said the Hong Kong-based author of a new book about the former sex slaves who worked in Japanese military brothels during the second world war.
Sylvia Yu Friedman spent more than a decade researching her book, Silenced No More: Voices of Comfort Women, interviewing dozens of former sex slaves as well as ex-soldiers who raped the young girls at the “comfort stations”.
Friedman, who was born in South Korea and grew up in Canada, first learned of “comfort women” when she was 15, around the same age as many others when they were tricked into years of sexual servitude.
Their horrific stories made a deep impact on the former human rights reporter and motivated her to write a book.
“It’s an issue of historical memory,” she said, noting how many Japanese students in past generations never learned about the brothels.
“So my goal is to lay a foundation of truth so that we can begin a reconciliation process.”
From being a journalist, Friedman now works in philanthropy, linking corporate donors with humanitarian projects.
Her book, launched last night, features interviews with Chinese, Korean, Taiwanese, Dutch and Filipino survivors, many now in their 80s and 90s, as well as three former soldiers who have admitted to their wrongdoings and are now part of an international movement to help survivors.
One of the women profiled in the book was the late Kim Soon-duk, who was 16 when she was told she would be sent from Korea to Japan to work as a nurse.
Instead, Kim ended up at a military brothel in Shanghai where, for three years, she was raped by Japanese soldiers. It was only in 1992 that she spoke out about her experiences in an attempt to heal the pain.
“We have to recognise in Japan today there are many good citizens. I do not hate the younger generation,” the book cited her as saying. “We can only get healing if we solve this problem, [which] means the Japanese government issuing an official apology as well as just compensation.”
Kim died in 2004, aged 83.
The issue of an apology remains politically sensitive. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, in his speech last month to mark the 70th anniversary of his country’s surrender in the war, expressed deep remorse for those who suffered, but stopped short of offering his own apology.
This has angered activists and many of the survivors. Past Japanese governments have apologised to comfort women.
Tokyo-born Tomoko Hasegawa, 55, and Singaporean Kan Chui Mai, 52, have taken matters into their own hands, spending years travelling to meet former sex slaves in Shanxi province in mainland China and offering apologies as part of a Christian group.
The two women, both featured in the book, spoke at last night’s launch, telling of the powerful impact that an apology could have on the survivors and former soldiers.