Kim Soon-duk: Noreen Shanahan hears a Korean story of teenage years of sexual enslavement and abuse - and a life-long struggle to gain … justice
by Noreen Shanahan
Noreen Shanahan hears a Korean story of teenage years of sexual enslavement and abuse - and a life-long struggle to gain vindication and justice.
WHEN I first saw Kim Soon-duk I thought she looked like a ghost with a story to tell. She sat alone in the shadows of Trinity-St Paul United Church in downtown Toronto. The frail 78-year-old Korean was dressed in a lacy yellow gown which sported a perpetually fingered white-paper rose corsage. I spoke with her later as we crowded into a small livingroom. I was struck by her courage. But the words didn't come easily. She was having an obvious struggle in meeting my eyes. She couldn't do it as she recalled for me the indignities of being a teenaged comfort woman in Shanghai. Only twice was she able to maintain our eye contact: the first time when she described her weekly protests outside the Japanese Embassy in the Korean capital of Seoul: and then again when she talked to me of her art.
One of her paintings shows the closed bud of a flower resting against a young girl's cheek. For her this represents her experience of abduction by the Japanese military from her village in rural Korea at 15 years of age, and then being forced into sexual slavery until the end of the Second World War three years later. At first Kim thought they were taking her to Japan to work in a factory, but she soon discovered herself in Shanghai, where she was raped daily by dozens of Japanese soldiers. `We were placed in a small room and there were a lot of soldiers waiting at the door,' she said. `I was very sick. I couldn't sit down, I was so badly bleeding. When the army moved, we all moved with them.'
An estimated 200,000 young women, predominantly from Korea (then colonized by Japan) were taken from their homes and, like Kim, brutally assaulted. These `comfort women' - halmoni in Korean - kept this secret for 50 years. Kim Soon-duk was already well into her 70s when she joined a growing chorus of voices and finally told her story. She is currently involved with The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Sexual Slavery in Japan (`The Korean Council') which organizes weekly protests in Seoul, where Kim is a faithful participant. She also goes on international speaking tours such as the one that has brought her to Toronto.