Hank Nelson: Australian historian sheds light on forgotten sex slaves





When it comes to the debate about World War II "comfort women," Australia has "chosen to ignore" evidence of Japanese military brothels that housed up to 3,000 Japanese and Korean women in the town of Rabaul on the island of New Guinea, an Australian historian claims.

Instead of highlighting the abuses suffered by women in Rabaul, located in what was then mandated Australian territory, Australia's politicians and its media have focused on Jan Ruff O'Hearne, a Dutch woman who moved to Australian after she was forced to become a comfort woman in the Japanese-occupied Java during the war, according to Hank Nelson, a professor emeritus at Australian National University.

"Either by accident or design, Australians have chosen not to remember the brothels in an Australian territory and not to use evidence from Rabaul to contribute to debates about the comfort women," Nelson said in a paper submitted for publication in the Journal of Pacific History.

Ruff-O'Hearne, who became the first European woman to speak out in 1992 about the atrocities committed against her, has become the one of the world's leading campaigners for the rights of former comfort women, testifying in the U.S. Congress and personifying the debate back home in Australia.

But the example of Rabaul could also be used to provide evidence in the recurring debate about whether the comfort women were actually coerced into sexual slavery with military involvement or whether, as some Japanese politicians continue to assert, evidence supports nothing more than opportunistic private contractors meeting the demands of soldiers in military camps, Nelson says.

In his paper, Nelson details memoirs from Japanese doctors, the testimony of a Korean woman who worked as a sex slave in Rabaul and statements from Australians who were prisoners of the Japanese as well as from captured Japanese.



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