Comfort Women - The Pain Remains

Posted by M ws On Thursday, January 24, 2013 0 comments
This afternoon, I decided to blog about comfort women after I read HERE about South Korean activists' plans to put up statues commemorating women forced into wartime sexual slavery by Japan in a number of Asian countries, starting with Singapore next Wednesday.

So far, the best and most graphic website I visited is none other than photographer Jan Banning's post AT THIS LINK. You can read more about Jan Banning HERE. 

Jan Banning's post is particularly moving because he has put up very expressive photographs of 18 women who dared to stride out to speak about their experiences.

Together with writer Hilde Janssen, Banning visited Indonesian women who had been victims of forced sexual labour.

Each photograph is accompanied by a brief summary of the victim's experience. These elderly women exude a certain element of reslience in their expressions. Yet, if you look closely, especially at their eyes, it is clear the pain remains even with the passing years reminding us of how difficult it must have been for them to endure those experiences, worse still, endure the memory of such painful, haunting and emotionally draining experiences.

I thought Mardiyah's photograph was most moving. Her eyes seemed to have a hauntinglike pain, hiding decades of suppressed grief. The deep lines between her brows were probably from the years of asking ,"Why me?", never understanding nor accepting the hardship and turmoil that she has had to endure. And now, she lives in loneliness, haunted by her past.

Dominggas' portrait is also clevery executed by Banning. Look at the deep lines on her face, the blank and almost numb look in her eyes. Painful!

Sanikem's story is tragic but she managed to find happiness. Her face exudes peace and strength of character...hers is a conscious decision to choose happiness over grief. Not many have the strength to make such a decision and to execute that decision successfully.

Icih Dehuri's story is very traumatising to read. I cannot imagine the magnitude of horror she must have experienced. Her facial expression as captured expertly by Banning shows how she has come to terms with her past.

Reading Ronasih's story of how the soldiers systematically raped her for three years was quite a nightmare. Some people may wonder why there are activists who campaign for these comfort women but I believe they will change their perspective once they talk to the victims, see their faces and try to imagine the ordeal and living hell they had gone through.

Mastia's story is deeply moving and gives us an open window to see how comfort women suffer. She said "People nevertheless continued to call me a 'Japanese hand-me-down.' That made me very sad. I still think about it often."

Niyem was raped when she was 10. Shocking. Excerpt from Banning's site: Niyem had to share a small tent with two other girls, where soldiers raped them in the presence of others. She didn't get much to eat and had to drink water from a ditch. "I was still so young, within two months my body was completely destroyed. I was nothing but a toy, as a human being I meant nothing, that's how it felt during the Japanese era."

Banning really captured the sorrow in Antonetha's eyes. It is almost too painful to look at her photograph.

Beauty has a price. That is the lesson that Emah learnt. Clearly, she must have been a stunning beauty during the Japanese occupation. Her striking beauty is still there in the photo. Her eyes are particularly unusual. The right eye seems to show resilience whilst the left eye is trying to mask the grief and sorrow that time can never heal. Maybe I am too imaginative and reading too much into a photograph. According to Banning's site, "In the office where the servicemen had to buy a ticket, there were pictures of the girls they could choose from. "Everyone wanted me. They kept on coming, one after the other." She resented her beauty. "I so much wanted to be ugly, because the ugly girls they quickly sent home again. But the beautiful ones had to stay." She stayed at the brothel until the end of the war. When she returned home, it turned out both her parents had died of sadness. She married an older man of Javanese nobility. "I really didn't want to, but I took pity on him. After he died four years later, I never married again, even though I had many admirers." She never was able to have children and adopted two of her brother's children."

I cannot imagine the horror and anguish comfort women suffered. May God heal them of their past and may the memories of their pain and ordeal fade away to be replaced by happiness in their sunset years. And for those who have departed, may they rest in peace, at last.

Thank you, Jan Banning and Hilde Janssen for your work to let us understand the turbulence and suffering of Indonesian comfort women.

If you want to know a first hand account, CLICK HERE.


During WWII, up to 200,000 women and girls were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military. These women and girls were kept in 'comfort stations' in China, Taiwan, Borneo, Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar (formerly known as Burma), Indonesia and many of the Pacific Islands.

Women were abducted, deceived or sold by extremely poor parents. The majority of women were under the age of 20 and some were girls as young as 12. These women and girls were kept for months or years on end.

South Korean Kim Bok-dong, was one of those women. Now 90 years old, she was taken from her home village and abused as a ‘comfort woman’. Here she gives a rare insight into her horrific experience and her continued fight for justice. CLICK HERE for more.

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