Sonyeo [소녀] means girl in Korean.
It connotes innocence and youth.
On August 14, 1991, Kim Hak Sun, a bony, unflinching 70-year-old woman, stood in front of a room full of reporters and told the Korean public her long overdue story as a victim of sexual slavery during the Japanese occupation in the Pacific War (WWII).
Soon, her testimony prompted many others: similar in weight of brutality, varying in location, age, and survival. Stories of girls who were kidnapped, tortured and forced to perform sexual services for the Japanese military. Girls who were forced into sexual slavery were euphemistically called Comfort Women. At the end of the war, most Comfort Women were buried, burned alongside evidence of their existence, or lost in foreign land. Those who managed to survive came back to a country that branded them as prostitutes, where they silently lived on bearing the scars and nightmares of their youth.
The experience of relentless years of captivity, all shapes and forms of torture, and 60 years of lonely attempt at rehabilitation is impossible to fully comprehend and document; however, it is crucial that we try to do so anyway. Despite the national attention from Kim Hak Sun’s groundbreaking revelation, successive Japanese government regimes have brought new waves of doubt, insults, and contention to the issue. Comfort Women are not alone in facing such denial of their pasts. Around the world, war crimes against women are stigmatized by members of their own community, denied by officials, and forgotten in history.
Project Sonyeo has an array of carefully compiled resources: a historical account of the details of the Japanese occupation and ‘Comfort Stations,’ locations and meanings of statues commemorating Comfort Women, biographies of known Comfort Women, translated primary sources, testimonies, and updates on relevant events. Project Sonyeo’s main goal is to shine more light on the issue beyond the Korean population and ensure that history dares not forget what really happened.
The project's purpose is to help provide resources as a lesson for the future. For far too long, rape has been a weapon of war, a tactic of terrorism, a tool to instill fear in communities. Only when CRSV is treated more seriously and we hold perpetrators accountable, will young girls and women be protected from the threat of wartime sexual violence.
30 years ago, Kim Hak Sun’s courage reshaped history. Project Sonyeo aims to amplify her voice, and the strained voices of others, who refused to forget, and chose to speak up. We hope to make sure that their life, at first so young and ready to be lived, trampled upon by atrocities after another, hopefully closes with a long-deserved apology, justice, and more attention and acceptance from around the world.