SEX SLAVES OF THE IMPERIAL JAPANESE ARMY

Historians have estimated that as many as 200,000 civilian women were forcibly conscripted in Japanese-occupied countries between 1931 and 1945 and forced to serve as sexual slaves in Japanese Army brothels. The Imperial Japanese Army assigned these victims the euphemistic term "comfort women". The majority of these women were conscripted in China and Korea, but this barbarous practice occurred in every country occupied by the Imperial Japanese Army. As might be expected, successive Japanese governments have refused to frankly admit that Japanese Army troops committed these terrible crimes against women.

This example is drawn from the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), and it is the story of a courageous Dutch girl who survived the sexual slavery forced on her by the Japanese Army that occupied Java in 1942.

Jan Ruff was in her late teens when Java was surrendered to the Japanese invaders on 8 March 1942. The Dutch civilian population was rounded up by the Japanese and interned in camps where the living conditions were often as bad as in the prisoner of war camps. The interned women were fed so little by the Japanese that they were forced to eat snails and rats to survive. They were arbitrarily beaten or forced to stand in the sun for hours by the Japanese guards whenever the whim took them.

After two and a half years in an internment camp, conditions for Jan Ruff took a dramatic turn for the worse when Japanese officers entered the camp and ordered all girls over the age of seventeen to line up for inspection. The Japanese officers then physically examined each girl as if she was an animal put up for auction at a cattle sale. When the line had been reduced to ten girls, the Japanese officers ordered these girls to pack a suitcase and get into a truck waiting at the camp gate. Protests by their mothers were ignored. The truck was then driven to a large house in Semarang, the capital of Middle Java. This house was surrounded by a high fence and guarded by Japanese soldiers. Jan discovered the terrible nature of the ordeal she was about to endure when the Japanese told the girls that they would live in this house and be required to provide sexual services to the Japanese military. Jan felt at the time as if her whole world had collapsed. In response to their protests, the girls were told that the Japanese would treat them in any way that they pleased.

The Japanese photographed each girl and assigned her a Japanese name. The photographs were then posted on the verandah for scrutiny by any Japanese soldier who wanted to rape a Dutch girl. The girls were then told to go to the rooms in the brothel assigned to them, but they clung to each other. The house filled with Japanese soldiers, and as each girl was dragged off to a room, her humiliation was treated as a matter for laughter by the Japanese. Eventually, Jan Ruff's turn came. She was dragged to a bedroom by a Japanese officer who threatened to kill her with his sword if she didn't submit to him. He tore off all her clothes, threw her on the bed, and raped her. Other soldiers were lined up waiting, and she was repeatedly raped throughout the night. She had been a virgin before the Japanese raped her. Speaking of this terrible experience many years later, Jan said:

"By raping me the Japanese took away everything from me - my self-respect, my dignity, my possessions, my family. I really wonder how I coped. It's amazing how strong you can be. My strong belief in God, and my faith and prayer helped me through".

From "Horror in the East" by Laurence Rees, published by the BBC in 2001.

Once a week, the ten Dutch girls had to submit to a humiliating physical examination by a Japanese Army doctor who allowed Japanese soldiers to amuse themselves by watching these examinations. Jan Ruff was raped by this doctor on every occasion that he examined her.

After three months of serial rape by Japanese soldiers, the girls were told to pack their belongings. The Japanese told them that they would not be returned to the camp from which they had been taken but would go to a different camp. They were warned that they and their families would be killed if they told anyone that they had been forced to work in a Japanese Army brothel.

Jan Ruff only broke her silence when the war ended and she was reunited with her family. Her parents were devastated when told what the Japanese had done to her. She had wanted to become a nun, but when she told a Catholic priest that she had been forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese Army, he informed her that it would not be appropriate for her to become a nun. She felt dirty and ashamed when the priest said this to her, and his words cast a dark shadow over her life until 1992 when she heard that her terrible experience had been shared by as many as two hundred thousand women in countries invaded by the Japanese between 1931 and 1945.

When Jan Ruff discovered that these female victims of gross sexual abuse by the Imperial Japanese Army were demanding an apology from the Japanese government, and that the Japanese government was refusing to acknowledge this vile behaviour of the Japanese Army with a public apology, she decided to tell her own story and join the battle to compel the Japanese government to make a full and public apology.

It can be fairly said that whenever a Japanese Prime Minister, including Junichiro Koizumi, pays homage to Japan's war dead, including Japan's worst war criminals, at the infamous Yasukuni Shinto Shrine in Tokyo, it is equivalent to a slap in the face for every women forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army.

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