[Trigger warning – rape and abuse]
I love comfort food. Mac and cheese, chocolate layer cake, Campbell’s chicken noodle soup. Just the smell of bacon triggers a Proustian memory of my grandmother’s warm, Southern kitchen. Food is part of my emotional connection to home and family. Comfort food is a sensory delight. Comfort women is a euphemism for women who are forced into sexual enslavement.
I visited the War and Women’s Human Rights Museum in Seoul, South Korea. I had heard of comfort women. I knew that these women were exploited by Japanese Armed Forces during World War II. I had no idea of the magnitude and organization of the trafficking and abuse. Women from South Korea and other nations were kidnapped, coerced, or lured with promises of jobs. Then, they were forced to serve as sexual slaves in so-called “comfort stations.”
The museum includes the testimonies of South Korean survivors (called “halmoni” or grandmother) and serves as a memorial to the survivors who have died. It has historical artifacts on the exploitation of these women as well as the activism of surviving halmoni and others to demand a formal apology, reparations, and public education.
For me, the most striking element of the museum was the inclusion of other women’s sexual exploitation in other countries. After visiting the main exhibit, you walk through the first floor section that highlights human rights abuses around the world. Also, in a below ground level exhibit, the museum acknowledges that South Korea’s military has also been guilty of the sexual exploitation of women in other countries.