Comfortably Numb

A UM professor gathers an ugly hidden history of rape and forgetting

According to Galang, it was common for 20 to 30 girls to be locked together in a cramped outdoor room. "They would often be tied at the waist with three other girls," says Galang, "then caged like animals." The survivors concur they were raped anywhere from three to 40 times per day, some for up to three years.

"If we resisted, they would punish us," says Kim Koon Ja, who was taken in March 1942 at age 16. "My body is forever marked and scarred with those beatings and in some cases stabbings with a knife. If a girl became pregnant, she was forced to have an abortion. I was one of those girls."

Armed with dozens of heart-wrenching testimonies, Galang returned to Florida determined to bring the plight of the Filipino comfort women to the forefront. She lobbied the state's 85,000-strong Filipino-American population for signatures on a petition, also imploring citizens to write to their government representatives. She penned freelance articles for national magazines to raise awareness, and bombarded Florida Republican U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen with letters and phone calls in the hope she would support a resolution in favor of the comfort women.

M. Evelina Galang, local advocate for "comfort women" worldwide
M. Evelina Galang, local advocate for "comfort women" worldwide

Galang's efforts paid off.

This past July, Ros-Lehtinen cosponsored a bill that urged Japan to formally apologize. (Though Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi acknowledged in 1993 the nation's involvement in managing brothels, neither parliament nor his cabinet followed suit.) Galang traveled to Washington with several survivors for the hearing. It "was a horrific crime," Ros-Lehtinen said. "Attempts to deny or minimize these facts are a disservice to future generations."

The House unanimously approved the measure.

Japan didn't react, but according to a Washington Post article, Japanese Ambassador Ryozo Katoto had warned Congress before the vote that passing the bill could result in serious long-term damage to Japanese-U.S. relations. And, he said, his country might reconsider its role as one of the few loyal supporters of U.S. policy in Iraq, where it is the second-largest donor for rebuilding.

Narcisa Claveria is one of a handful of survivors hoping for compensation. In a video that Galang shot, Claveria smiles into the camera, her weathered skin belying the youthful sparkle in her eyes. "We want our dignity back," she says in Tagalog. "We want our dignity back."

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