As our large group settled at the feet of three Halmoni (a respectful term for ‘grandmother’) seated in a cheerful reception room, I studied the figures before me. They wore cheetah-patterned shirts and floral stretch pants like any other Korean woman their age. At the mention that someone might sing for them, their beaming smiles caused their eyes to vanish under loose folds of skin. I almost could not believe that these very women had been abducted and forced into military brothels some sixty years ago.
During the Asia-Pacific War (1931-1945) Japanese troops became notorious for their brutal displays of aggression. Not wanting to be seen as barbarians by the international community, the top ranking officials authorized a pan-Asian military brothel system. The rationale being that the release of sexual desires in a controlled environment would lower the rates of STDs (a huge problem at the time) and deter troops from pillaging helpless towns and civilians. As a colony of Japan, a large percentage of the 50,000-200,000 women kidnapped and lured into such unimaginable horror came from Korea.
Of that number, only a handful of women today have officially registered in South Korea as a survivor of the military brothels. And still a smaller number call the House of Sharing their home. Part museum, part activist headquarters and part residence, the House of Sharing is the first institution solely dedicated to educating visitors about the Japanese military sexual slavery.
When a tour guide announced the gently creased Halmoni in front of me loved to receive hugs, it came as no surprise- as I could see she tenderly grasped the hand of all those who talked to her. It was nearly impossible to consider that those same hands could have been forced to wash, up to 20 times a day, the penises of the men who raped her. But for so many trafficked women, that had been just part of the reality- working in the brothel left one sliced, burnt, beaten, diseased or dead. At the end of the war, the survivors were abandoned penniless in foreign lands while the official verdict from Japan was that their nightmare had been just that- a bad dream.
However, witnessing the cheerful interaction between the visitors and the Halmoni, it became clear that these incredibly resilient women were not looking to the past. Their gentle eyes saw a future in which Japan officially recognized their criminal actions. And so despite failing health and dwindling numbers of survivors, they still protest every Wednesday outside of the Japanese Embassy. They have done their part, now it is our turn to make sure such atrocities and human depravity are not swept under the rug of history.
How to support the House of Sharing:
Volunteer, donate, write to politicians, and spread the word. To visit, register with House of Sharing on facebook or email:
-How many will be attending