NATIONAL

Additional Korean sex slaves from Chuuk Islands discovered

By Kim Da-sol
  • Published : Dec 11, 2017 - 16:04
  • Updated : Dec 11, 2017 - 16:05
Dozens of Koreans held on the Chuuk Islands are presumed to have been sex slaves for Japanese troops during World War II, Seoul Metropolitan Government said Monday, a new discovery that researchers say supports existing evidence and testimony of Japan’s brutal trafficking of women to front-line brothels.

The Chuuk Islands, previously known as the Truk Islands, comprised Japan’s main base in the South Pacific from 1939 to 1945. Truk was a heavily fortified base for Japanese operations against Allied forces in New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, serving as the forward anchorage for the Japanese Imperial Fleet. 

Photos released by the Seoul National University Human Rights Centers shows former Korean sex slaves in Chuuk Islands, who are believed to have been coerced into sex slavery during the war in which Korea was under colonial rule by Japan. (SNU Human Rights Center)

According to the Seoul Metropolitan Government and Seoul National University Human Rights Center, at least 26 Koreans were forcibly taken to the islands, which they found by obtaining a list of the people onboard the Escort Ikino -- a vessel that carried 368 passengers in 1943 en route to the Chuuk Islands. 

They said records from daily logs written by American soldiers, articles and photos from the New York Times published on March 1946 also proved that there were Korean sex slaves on the Chuuk Islands.

The SNU Human Rights Center, which has been searching for evidence on Japanese wartime sexual enslavement, said it was the first discovery that proves the testimony of Lee Bok-soon, a late sex-trafficking survivor who claimed to have been taken there. Lee, one of 239 government-registered survivors, died in 2011. 

Little had been known about Koreans on the Chuuk Islands at that time and many researchers have assumed that some Koreans might have been coerced into forced labor there to construct the Japanese base or work at military brothels, the center said. 

Professor Chung Jin-seong from the SNU Human Rights Center, who led the search, said they went through every certification of family register and interviewed family members and neighbors to confirm a photo of a woman presumed to be taken on the island was Lee. 

In addition, the city government said it discovered evidence of another sex slavery victim, Ha Bok-hyang, who had said she was coerced to the Japanese wartime brothel, but died before being recognized by the government as a victim. 

Sixteen years after her death, Ha has now been confirmed as a sex slavery victim following the center’s discovery of interrogation records of prisoners from the Japanese wartime base in the Philippines. The center also compared a photo, birthday, address and fingerprints to prove that Ha was a sex-trafficking survivor. 

Ha did not speak about her damage until 2001, when she shared her experience with the Korea Chongshindae’s Institute. She died 10 days later. 

A total 239 former sex slaves were registered based on available evidence, but many civic groups and researchers say the number is well above that.

“We believe that there are still many other sex slavery victims, but not officially recognized in our society. The city government will join hands with experts and scholars to continue to search evidence on the Japanese wartime sexual enslavement,” said Eom Gyu-sook, head of the city government’s Women and Family Policy Affairs division.

As of July 2017, 38 recognized former wartime sex slaves remain alive, according to government data. 

Up to 200,000 women, many from Korea, then a colony of Japan, are believed to have been coerced into sex slavery during the war.

By Kim Da-sol (ddd@heraldcorp.com)