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WWII sex slaves – and their children – suffer from lifelong trauma
  • By Marian Chu
  • Published 2017.04.17 11:06
  • Updated 2017.04.17 17:42
  • comments 0

Korean sex slaves, forced into prostitution at Japanese military brothels during World War II, have suffered long from various mental health problems amid inadequate treatment, and that ultimately affected their children, too, experts said Friday.

That was part of the findings by three psychiatrists who made presentations under the theme of “Psychosocial aftermath of ‘comfort women,’” at the Korean Neuropsychiatric Association’s spring symposium.

Professor Lee So-young이소영 of Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital순천향대병원 said studies on these comfort women – a Japanese euphemism for military sex slaves -- were too little, too late. Most sex-slaves still alive today are in their 80s or older, and most did not reveal their history until their 60s, forcing them to live with mental health issues after the trauma their whole lives.

Comparing the situation to that of post-holocaust studies, Professor Lee struck a tone of pity and regret, saying, “Our government did not conduct investigations until 55 years had passed, a long time for these women to suffer without any help.”

The government first tried to help these women by providing economic support, according to Kim Dong-shik at Korean Women’s Development Institute. The task, delegated to government workers, was carried out robotically, categorizing these women according to physical symptoms or economic status – and offered no mental help.

A member of the National Assembly, who looked over these reports, ordered a secondary evaluation, delegating the task to the Korean Women’s Development Institute, which revealed significant findings.

According to Professor Lee, sex-slaves have long suffered from various mental problems, including depression, social anxiety, panic disorder, alcohol use, and other psychiatric disorders. When compared to 6,022 adults, the study revealed that these women suffered significantly more than the general population with 90 percent suffering from some form of mental illness over their lifetime.

Source: Professor Lee So-young (Soon Chun Hyang University hospital, department of psychiatry)

Studies also found almost 90 percent have dealt with posttraumatic stress disorder, 60 percent with hwabyeong -- mental or emotional disorder as a result of repressed anger or stress -- and 45 percent with depression over their lifetime.

These sex slaves, tricked or forced into repeated sexual acts and even marriage with Japanese occupant soldiers, cited feelings of helplessness, regret, self-hatred, and hatred toward others over their lifetime. Most have internalized the idea that “the world is cold and not to be trusted; people are no different,” according to Professor Lee. She estimated that the undercurrent of depressive thoughts contributed to the fact that 70 percent of these women had ideations of suicide over their whole lives.

The problem does not end there. Professor Lee Ji-won, also of Soon Chun Hyang University Hospital, said many either married their perpetrators or ran away to enter into even more abusive relationships with married men or otherwise abusive males, having children they could not care for in their economic or mental status.

Professor Lee Ji-won said although recent studies have tried to survey the second generation, most refused.

A questionnaire that asked participants to answer “yes or no” shed light on why the children were unwilling to participate in studies. To the question of whether they are worried that others would find their mother was a sex slave, 83.3 percent said “yes.” Asked whether they are surprised or uncomfortable when they see stories of sex slaves in the media, 66.7 percent said yes. And asked whether their self-esteem was hurt after they found out about their mother’s past, 50 percent said yes.

“Because the overwhelming majority has refused to participate in the survey, it was conducted on only six people, three men and three women, who were willing. Although of little statistical significance, the findings were surprising, she said.

According to the survey, many grew up under “abusive fathers, who were either married men or alcoholics that abused their mother after finding out about their past. Up to 83 percent (five children) had at least one psychiatric disorder over their lifetime, including depression, panic disorder, stress, trouble adjusting, insomnia, and alcoholism. The average levels of depression were ranked “dangerous to moderate.”

Kim Dong-soon at Dong-book Department of Neuropsychiatry stated that “it’s important their story gets heard. One person’s story can serve as the nation’s history.”

Although studies are currently underway, there is little economic or social support for second- and third-generations of sex slaves.

Kim concluded the session, saying: ““We must pay attention to these women neglected through history. More must be done.”


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