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Hundreds attend ‘Comfort Women’ memorial dedication in Brookhaven

Comfort women statue in Brookhaven

In Brookhaven, a new 'comfort women' statue of a seated girl memorializes women and girls who were trafficked and sexually enslaved by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan before and during World War II. Credit: Kelly Jordan

By Maggie Lee

The new statue in a Brookhaven park of a seated woman is small — about five feet high. But the attention for the comfort women memorial was large, making headlines across the Pacific Ocean and sparking opposition from the Japanese Consulate in Atlanta.

More than 200 people gathered in the drizzle at Blackburn Park II on Friday morning for a ceremony part in English, part in Korean, about sex trafficking past and present.

Comfort women statue in Brookhaven

In Brookhaven, a new ‘comfort women’ statue of a seated girl memorializes women and girls who were trafficked and sexually enslaved by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan before and during World War II. Credit: Kelly Jordan

The statue commemorates as many as 200,000 girls and women from 13 Asian-Pacific nations who were trafficked and sexually enslaved by the Imperial Armed Forces of Japan before and during World War II.

The victims and survivors, mostly Koreans, are known euphamistically as ‘comfort women.’ A Japanese official in Atlanta has maintained that there are widespread misconceptions about comfort women. But identical statues in Busan and Seoul, South Korea, serve as rallying points for people who say that Japanese apologies for wartime sex slavery in Japanese military brothels so far are not sufficient.

At the Brookhaven ceremony, a riser in the back of the tent accommodated several TV news crews. Some spectators huddled under umbrellas at the edges of the crowded tent, while others stood under a nearby pavilion.

The statue commemorates girls and women like Kang Il-chul, who was a young woman when the Japanese armed forces came to her home in Korea.

“I was one of those girls … who were dragged by Japanese people, just like [a] dog or animal, not like a person, to China,” Kang said via an interpreter.

She said she had no way to get home after World War II and that she made her life in China. Kang said she wanted to let people know about this historical issue and what happened to her during the war.

“I don’t know if Japanese people are aware of this historical issue or not, but now you are building this memorial, the girl statue here, it is truly amazing,” Kang said.

Baik Kyu Kim chairs the Atlanta Comfort Women Task Force, the group that worked to get the statue installed. He said the purpose of the task force is to stand together and bear witness to one of the darkest moments in human history.

“Only by remembering and acknowledging the human truth can we move forward to eradicate sexual violence and human trafficking in our community, both local and global,” he said.

Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst said that the statue commemorates an important and tragic history and is an educational reminder of the worldwide atrocity of human trafficking.

“By establishing this memorial we raise the awareness of the ongoing problems of sexual and human trafficking taking place in the metro area and the world today. The city of Brookhaven is proud to join the growing list of progressive cities around the world that have installed this memorial to recognize comfort women and to talk about their suffering,” Ernst told the crowd.

The statue found a home in Brookhaven after Atlanta’s Center for Civil and Human Rights backed out of an offer of space in March. That came after  objections from the Japanese Consulate in Atlanta, which warned that the statue would be divisive.

Kang Il-chul, a surviving ‘comfort woman’ stands with the new memorial statue in Brookhaven alongside Baik Kyu Kim, who led the task force that pushed to have the statue installed. Credit: Kelly Jordan

At the time, the consulate said in a written statement that the governments of Japan and South Korea have resolved the comfort women issue and that the statute may cause discrimination, humiliation or bullying of members of the Japanese community in Atlanta.

In the days before the statue was unveiled, the Japanese consul in Atlanta made headlines in Korea for an interview with Atlanta’s Reporter Newspapers, in which he said that there were not 200,000 comfort women and that they were not taken by force.

The Japanese Consulate in Atlanta did not reply by Friday afternoon to a Tuesday email or voice mails left on Thursday and Friday seeking comment.

The evening before the ceremony, Tomoko Ohyama from the consulate spoke at the regularly scheduled Brookhaven City Council meeting.

She said her government’s stance is that the city should take a pause to reconsider installation of the statue.

“The comfort women statue involves a very sensitive issue between Japan and the Republic of Korea. Few believe that this statue is not aimed at Japan and only intends to promote a totally different issue; and this statue will cause disunity and even confrontation among the local communities in Brookhaven and beyond, which is in the interest of no one,” Ohyama told council.

She also said that the government of Japan has maintained that there are widespread misconceptions about comfort women.

“The full-scale fact-finding study by the Japanese government in the 1990s did not find any historical documents that showed hundreds and thousands of women were forced into sexual slavery, all phrases which are used in the city council resolution of May 23rd,” she said.

After the Friday ceremony, Mayor Ernst deferred questions about the international politics around the statue to diplomats and foreign ministers.

“[Our statue] is about human trafficking and a historic reminder of a current event,” he said.

In front of a crowd of reporters and TV news cameras , he said he hopes the statue gets people talking about sex trafficking.

“Would you all be here if I was doing a press conference about sex trafficking? Probably not. But the fact that we did something that has a historical reminder, has some context and history … brings people out to discuss it.”

Brookhaven is a signer of the “Not Buying It” pledge, part of a state campaign against child sex trafficking. As part of the pledge, city officials promised to speak out against child sex trafficking and to train staff about how to spot sex trafficking victims or perpetrators.

Kang Il-chul, a surviving comfort woman, takes the stage at the Brookhaven ceremony. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Kang Il-chul

Kang Il-chul speaks at the dedication of the comfort woman statue in Brookhaven. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Members of the Atlanta Comfort Women Memorial Task Force pose with the statue that they worked to have installed in metro Atlanta. Credit: Kelly Jordan

In the rain, advocates, Brookhaven officials and surviving comfort woman Kang Il-chul prepare to unveil the memorial statue. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Spectators huddled under umbrellas in Brookhaven Friday, ahead of the unveiling of the city’s comfort women memorial statue. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Brookhaven City Councilman John Park

Brookhaven City Councilman John Park addresses the crowd gathered to see the unveiling of the city’s comfort women memorial statue. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Jiyeon Lee, left, a Korean pop star who’s also an Atlanta restaurateur, sang at the dedication of the comfort women statue. Helen Kim Ho, right, is a leader of the Atlanta task force that found a home for it. Credit: Kelly Jordan

snacks at ceremony

A guest peers at snacks served at a ceremony to mark the dedication of Brookhaven’s comfort women statue. Credit: Kelly Jordan

Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.



  1. Steve Hagan June 30, 2017 6:23 pm

    Thank you for this story!!! I had no idea if this abuse of women in regards to WWII.Report

    1. Greg June 30, 2017 7:12 pm

      Have you not heard of the infamous “Rape of Nanking” ? (1937)Report

      1. Steve Hagan July 1, 2017 12:22 pm

        Now that you mention Nanking, I do recall….at 68, recall is not what it used to be….Report

  2. momo chi July 1, 2017 1:03 am

    Why shouldn’t comfort women during Korean War and Vietnam War be remembered and honored? Hundreds of thousands of them were killed or raped brutally and trafficked by Korean soldiers. Why doesn’t the inscription mention it?

    There are still many surviving victims from Korean War. They are suffering now without any apology and compensations.

    If you have an ounce of conscience, you should save them. Do not make a sacrifice of them in order to defame Japan or to dilute Korean atrocity in Korea War, Vietnam War.Report

  3. ruewarwick July 1, 2017 5:57 am

    It is true that Japanese Empire deprived Korea of its independence and extends harsh colonization. But it is not true Japanese Imperial Army kidnapped 200,000 girls which equals to 10% of Japanese Army stationed in hostile soil. If abductions of 200,000 Korean girls were the case why nobody was tried as war criminal?
    Contrary there are many wartime Korean newspapers reporting Japanese governmental police raided on human trafficking from Korea to China.
    Apparently you are not troubled with the statistics that population of Korean peninsula at the end of WW2 was 23,000,000 so 200,000 amounts to be 2% of female population and at the same time there were no claim or rumor about abduction until litigation in 1991.
    Please self-reflect whether what you heard and believed have been totally free from biases or ethnocentrism.Report

  4. Greg July 1, 2017 9:16 am

    “……..many wartime Korean newspapers reporting Japanese governmental police raided on human trafficking from Korea to China.”

    This is interesting. Can you please list some of those “many” Korean wartime newspapers that you have referenced ? Go ahead, we’ll wait for those newspaper names. Also….can you provide the specific dates on which the stories you have claimed appeared in these newspapers….the .name of the paper(s) and the page no. please. You seem to be VERY knowledgeable about this Korean newspaper data. I’m sure that there are a lot of Koreans who would be very interested in this data as well…..your help would certainly be appreciated !
    Further, you have mentioned something called “harsh colonization”…..would you care to explain just exactly what that term means ? Again, be VERY specific in your answer .
    Perhaps a bit of “self reflecting” might help you to provide clear, concise, and accurate answers to these questions. Thanks for your help in this matter.Report

    1. ruewarwick July 2, 2017 5:52 am

      You asked me to explain what I meant by the wording ‘harsh colonization’.
      Our leaders told, spoke out and repeated and repeated what it means to the world and especially to Korean people.
      We Japanese are very much aware of dark side of Japan’s past imperialism.
      And we know that we Japanese should be grateful to the fact that we enjoy peace, prosperity and freedom for 72 years.
      But at the same time it is quite pity to learn our sincere apologies had been ignored, forgotten and got trampled on.
      You might say Japan just offered half-hearted apologies, but I think that is unfair. For example, former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi, often described as a far-right nationalist because he visited Yasukuni shrine, also visited Seoul’s Seodaemun prison. This was where, during Japan’s rule of the Korean peninsula, colonial authorities incarcerated, tortured, and killed Korean independence leaders and their family members. Today the prison features a museum that explicitly details Japanese atrocities, and a monument to Korean independence leaders.
      Koizumi laid a wreath at the memorial and offered his “heartfelt remorse and apology for the tremendous damage and suffering Japan caused Korean people during its colonial rule.” Koizumi commented that after he viewed the prison exhibits, “I felt strong regret for the pains Korean people suffered during Japanese colonial rule. As a politician and a man, I believe we must not forget the pain of Korean people.”

      Koizumi’s apology was far from isolated. Another prime minister, Morihiro Hosokawa, gave another impressive apology during a trip to South Korea. He said:
      “During Japan’s colonial rule over the Korean Peninsula, the Korean people were forced to suffer unbearable pain and sorrow in various ways. They were deprived of the opportunity to learn their mother tongue at school, they were forced to adopt Japanese names, forced to provide sex as ‘comfort women’ for Japanese troops, forced to provide labor. I hereby express genuine contrition and offer my deepest apologies for my country, the aggressor’s, acts.”

      Because these statements accepted Japanese guilt, enumerated Japanese crimes, and were offered at symbolic locations, I think they were not half-hearted apologies by any standard. And other Japanese leaders have offered several other important statements, including Tomiichi Murayama’s 1995 apology that subsequent governments (including Shinzo Abe’s) have reaffirmed.

      We Japanese know well that our leaders have apologized, so when those gestures are ignored and Tokyo is repeatedly asked to apologize again, we naturally protest. They argue that South Korean leaders are not truly interested in reconciliation, but are wielding the history weapon to score domestic and diplomatic points at Japan’s expense.Report

    2. Kim July 4, 2017 8:11 pm

      Information from a Korean website
      You can see the photos of the original documents at:

      Korean Newspaper Reports from 1930’s

      1939.03.28 동아일보
      50여 처녀가 조선인 인신매매단에 걸려서 북지, 만주에 창기로 팔림.
      일본경찰이 구해줌.
      March 28, 1939 Donga Ilbo
      Over 50 women were deceived by a Korean trafficker (Bae Jang-eon 배장언)
      and sent to Northern China & Manchuria.
      He was arrested and the women were rescued by Japanese policemen.

      1933.06.30 동아일보
      노상에서 소녀를 유인하여 납치,
      추업중인(매춘포주)에게 매도. 범인은 박명동과 이성녀
      June 30, 1933 Donga Ilbo
      A girl was kidnapped from the street by
      Korean traffickers (Park Myeong-dong & Lee Seong-nyeo)

      1936.05.14 매일신보
      농촌부녀유인 악한을 검거.
      여자를 만주에 창기로 팔려던 것을 일본경찰이 검거해서 여성을 구출함.
      네명의 여자가 마수를 벗어남.
      May 14, 1936 Maeil Shinbo
      Traffickers (Korean comfort station owners’ agents) were arrested
      by police for deceiving women from farming villages.
      Four women were rescued.

      1939.08.31 동아일보
      악덕소개업자가 발호,
      이들이 유괴한 농촌부녀자의 수가 무려 100명 이상.
      모두 일본경찰님들이 구출해내심.
      August 31, 1939 Donga Ilbo
      Over 100 women from farming villages were deceived
      by Korean traffickers (Kim Ok-man 김옥만 & his family)
      They were arrested and the women were rescued by Japanese policemen.

      1936.07.09 매일신보
      처녀를 유인하여 추업(매춘)을 강제한 행상마녀의 죄상.
      범인은 황금정, 박금희, 이덕순 이라는 조선녀 3인.
      순진한 가정부녀들을 유인해서 중국인에게 매춘을 강요함.
      일본경찰이 검거하여 피해여성들을 구출.
      July 9, 1936 Maeil Shinbo
      Three Korean traffickers (Hwang Geum-jeong, Park Geum-hee & Lee Deok-sun)
      were arrested for deceiving innocent girls.

      1935.03.07 동아일보
      중국 상해 암흑굴에 조선여성 2천여명. 이들 원정녀들 때문에 조선인의 체면이 손상됨.
      그녀들의 참담한 생활에도 불구하고 대책이 막연.
      왜냐하면 경제적 문제로 인한 자발적인 근로라서 대책을 세울 수 없음을 안타까워하는 내용.
      March 7, 1935 Donga Ilbo
      About 2,000 Korean women work in the Shanghai slum.
      These prostitutes tarnish our reputation.
      But we can’t stop them because they voluntarily stay there for economic reasons.

      1933.07.01 동아일보
      소녀유인단의 수괴 은뽕어멈.
      주로 어린 소녀들을 꾀어다가 매음굴에 팔아 먹던 악녀였는데,
      일본경찰이 검거함.
      July 1, 1933 Donga Ilbo
      A leader of the Korean group that trafficked girls to
      Korean comfort station owners was arrested last night.

      1936.02.14 매일신보
      조선인들이 여자 유인해서 창기로 팔아 먹는걸
      일본경찰이 발견하고 검거함.
      February 14, 1936 Maeil Shinbo
      Korean traffickers who deceived and sold women
      to Korean comfort station owners were arrested by police.

      March 28, 1939 Maeil Shinbo
      A group of Korean traffickers deceived and sold
      over 100 women from farming villages.
      The women were rescued by Japanese policemen.

      October 27, 1944 Maeil Shinbo
      Comfort women wanted ad by a Korean comfort station ownerReport

  5. momo chi July 1, 2017 10:50 am

    I don’t have much knowledge about human trafficking news in wartime. But these are some of famous ones. I think you can read Korean newspaper.
    I hope Korean atone for their own sin.

    1932年3月23日 東亜日報

    東亜日報 1933年5月5日

    東亜日報 1933年6月30日

    1933年7月1日 東亜日報

    東亜日報 1934年4月14日

    東亜日報 1934年7月16日

    1935年3月7日 東亜日報

    1936年2月14日 毎日新報

    東亜日報 1936年3月15日

    1936年5月14日 毎日新報

    1936年7月9日 毎日新報

    東亜日報 1938年12月4日

    1939年3月28日 東亜日報

    1939年3月28日 毎日新報

    東亜日報 1939年8月31日

    東亜日報 1939年8月5日

    東亜日報 1939年5月27日

    東亜日報 1939年3月9日

    「朝光」 1939年5月_2

    「朝光」 1939年5月_1

    東亜日報 1939年3月15日

    東亜日報 1939年3月15日

    1. momo chi July 1, 2017 11:43 am

      If you cannot access these images, see http://seitousikan.blog130.fc2.com/blog-entry-147.html (Japanese only)Report

  6. ruewarwick July 2, 2017 5:40 am

    momo chi,
    Thanks. I didn’t check the reply to my comment.

    Problem for current day Koreans are they can’t read prewar newspaper because it was written in mixture of Chinese character and Hangeul; phonogram just like Japanese description.
    Koreans abolished Chinese character after WW2.
    In that sense we Japanese are more advantageous to understand prewar document written in Korean language than current day Koreans.
    Any question?Report

  7. Kim July 4, 2017 8:23 pm

    Information from a Korean website
    – In an interview with Professor Chunghee Sarah Soh of San Francisco State University, a former Korean comfort woman Kim Sun-ok said that she was sold by her parents four times.
    Yet she testified before UN Special Rapporteur Radhika Coomaraswamy that she was abducted by the Japanese military.
    – In an interview with Professor Park Yuha of Sejong University in South Korea, a former Korean comfort woman Bae Chun-hee said that she hated her father who sold her.
    Yet she testified before UN Special Rapporteur Radhika Coomaraswamy that she was abducted by the Japanese military.
    – In 1993 a former Korean comfort woman Kim Gun-ja told Professor Ahn Byong Jik of Seoul University, “I was sold by my foster father.”
    Yet she testified before UN Special Rapporteur Radhika Coomaraswamy that she was abducted by the Japanese military.
    The biggest problem about the testimonies is that you cannot find any documentary evidence or any eyewitness of the kidnapping of enormous number of Korean girls by Japanese Army.Report


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