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Kim Bok-dong

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Kim Bok-dong
BornApril 19, 1926
DiedJanuary 28, 2019 (aged 92)
NationalitySouth Korean
Known forHuman rights activism

Kim Bok-dong (Korean김복동; 19 April 1926 – 28 January 2019) was a human rights activist that campaigned against sexual slavery and war rape.[1] She was a young woman who was put into sexual slavery by the Japanese Imperial Army; a military that recruited girls between the ages of 10 and 18 years of age from colonized and occupied countries from the 1930s until the end of World War II. From age 14, she was put into comfort stations for eight years across different countries in Asia.[2] Her experiences led her to become an activist; advocating the end of war-time sexual violence, anti-imperialism, workers' rights, and inter-Korean reconciliation. Along with the other "comfort women", she made the three-fold demand from the Japanese government: a formal state-level apology, reparations, and correction of Japanese history (including amending Japanese history textbooks to include the truth of the "comfort women" issue). In addition, Kim Bok-dong herself also supported other "comfort women" to step forward, and was a spokesperson in the "comfort women" movement. Kim Bok-dong died in Seoul, South Korea, in a hospital on January 28, 2019.



Kim Bok-dong was born in Yangsan, Gyeongnam, Korea, Empire of Japan in March 1926.[3] She was the fourth of six daughters. Her family was wealthy when she was young. However, later her family struggled economically and faced poverty. As a result, she had to end her education. Bok-dong's father died when she was eight years old. Her three older sisters married to escape the hard times, but Bok-dong remained at home with her two younger sisters. Until at age 14~15 in 1941, Kim Bok-dong and her mother were lied to by Japanese authorities; Kim Bok-dong was told that she was to support the war efforts by working in a military clothing factory and would return in three years. If not, her family would be considered traitors. The Japanese authorities did not take Kim Bok-dong away but demanded that her mother sign a document. Her mother could not read so she conceded to the demand, believing that her daughter would work in a factory in Japan.[4] Instead, she was put into militarized sexual slavery in Japanese occupied territories for eight years, including Guangdong, Hong Kong, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia. Kim Bok-dong had to have sex every day, especially from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sundays.

She attempted to commit suicide with two other girls by alcohol poisoning, but Japanese soldiers found them unconscious. The army took them to the hospital and medics revived them by pumping their stomachs. Ten days later, she woke up.[5] She said if her father had been alive, she might not have been helplessly taken away.[6] At age 21 and after the war, Bok-dong returned to her hometown. She did not tell her family what happened to her, except to her mother. However, her mother became very distressed and died from a heart attack.[5]

After the Korean War, she owned and operated a successful restaurant in Busan where her older sisters lived.[6] Kim Bok-dong eventually met a man whom she fell in love with. Despite having this love, she suffered throughout her life because she was never able to have a child. She believes this was a result of the sexual abuse she endured. Along with this, her husband later died, not knowing her story. It was not until after he died that she began to speak about her experience.[3][2]



Kim Bok-dong stated, "Even as I returned to my homeland, it was never true liberation for me."[7] After her husband died she began to speak out, and later joined another woman seeking official recognition as victims of Japanese sex slavery. In 1992, a year after Kim Hak-sun first broke the silence on the issue, Kim Bok-dong finally publicly began to share her experience and detail what happened to her during her time as a sex slave. This was also the year in which she began to participate in the weekly protest, the Wednesday Demonstration, in front of the Japanese Embassy. Then in 1993, Kim Bok-dong attended and testified at the "World Human Rights Conference" in Vienna, Austria. She had also testified during other events in Japan and the United States. Bok-dong traveled around other parts of the world to tell her story and continued to participate in weekly protests. In an interview, Kim Bok-dong stated, "by presenting my testimony, I regain my sense of self and feel supported and connected with other women."[8] Networking and connecting with other women allowed her to recognize that there are many people who suffered like she did and gave her a sense of community. She attended the Wednesday rallies to demand a formal apology from Japan and legal reparations from the Korean women who were forced into sexual slavery during the war. Bok-dong acknowledges and recognizes that she has gained a platform where she is able to receive support from both ordinary people and the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan (KCWD). She emphasizes to her supporters and the public at large that they should do the right thing not just for her but for those without a voice, who have gone through similar struggles she has faced as well as for the next generation.[8]

The Butterfly Fund


Standing in solidarity with other ‘comfort women’ and wartime rape victims, Kim Bok-dong and Gil Won-ok established The Butterfly Fund, in an effort to help female victims of sexual violence in armed conflicts around the world. The symbolic meaning behind the name was stated by Bok-dong that, "We as activist would like the victims to be free from their hurtful past, like a butterfly that has just come out of its cocoon.".[8] The fund was started with money from personal donations. In the early stages of the fund, Kim Bok-dong and Gil Won-ok declared that they would donate all the money they received as reparations from the Japanese to other women as reparation to those who suffered from war just like they had.[9] Eventually, the KCWD formally established the "Butterfly Fund" in order to accomplish Gil Won-ok and Kim Bok-dong's objective. The fund began to provide support in the form of $500 per month to a victim support group in the Congo in July 2012. This amount would then be expanded once the Japanese governments paid reparations. The first beneficiary of the fund was Rebecca Masika Katsuva. Kim Bok-dong stated, "It will fly high as [an] emancipatory butterfly to many women war victims with the name of the halmeon."[8] The overarching idea behind the fund was to help and network with sexual violence victims in other countries, not only women in the same geographic space as the founders. For example, the fund has been used to aid Vietnamese women who were raped by Korean soldiers from 1964 to 1973 during the Vietnam War. Kim Bok-dong also highlighted that Korea too should make efforts to acknowledge war crimes committed by its own people.[8]



In addition to sharing her stories to the public verbally, Kim Bok-dong also created art to share with the public. In 1992, she began to live in the House of Sharing due to living a lonely life in Busan. During her time at the nursing home, she participated in an art therapy program.[10] Her artwork told her history to future generations. Artwork from the House of Sharing was included in campaigns to raise awareness and educate the global public on the 'comfort women' issue.[11] Her artistic themes included childhood memories, the experience of Japanese military slavery, and her present life and feelings. She worked in paint, woodblock print, and pencil. Her works included The Day a 14 year old Girl is Stolen Away (1998), As Youth Slips Away, and Suddenly I am Old and Grey (1998), Japan Do Not Trespass - Dok Island is Our Land (1998), and The Leaves of that Gaunt Tree will Blossom Someday (1998).[3]


  1. ^ "South Korea's 'comfort women' demand apology from Japan for wartime abuse". Sky News. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  2. ^ a b Asian Boss (27 October 2018), Life As A "Comfort Woman": Story of Kim Bok-Dong | ASIAN BOSS, retrieved 16 March 2019
  3. ^ a b c Jung, Won-chul, ed. (2000). A Collection of Paintings from Comfort Women [A Collection of Paintings from Comfort Women] (in Korean). Korea: Hye-jin.
  4. ^ Ok, Bogyean (2006). "Humanistic Globalization, Womanhood, and Comfort Women in South Korea". ProQuest Dissertations Publishing. ProQuest 304921424.
  5. ^ a b "Life As A "Comfort Woman": Story of Kim Bok-Dong". Asian Boss. 27 October 2018. Retrieved 30 October 2018.
  6. ^ a b "Kim Bok-dong still fighting for sex slave victims". The Korea Times. 17 August 2016. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  7. ^ Yamaguchi, Mari (June 2013). "THE WORLD; Ex-Sex Slaves Fight for Japanese Apology; Now Elderly, the Remaining WWII-Era 'Comfort Women' Continue to Press for a Resolution". The Los Angeles Times. ProQuest 1357349569.
  8. ^ a b c d e Shim, Young-Hee (2017). "Metamorphosis of the korean 'comfort women': How did han ... turn into the cosmopolitan morality?". Development and Society. 46 (2): 251–278. doi:10.21588/dns.2017.46.2.003. hdl:20.500.11754/115358.
  9. ^ "In solidarity with wartime rape victims". 24 August 2014. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  10. ^ "Touching portraits of former 'comfort women'". 25 May 2016. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  11. ^ "Korean-American woman donates artwork on 'comfort women'". The Korea Times. 19 August 2015. Retrieved 12 March 2018.