When members of the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues unveiled a new memorial on May 30, they also illuminated the issue of local human trafficking in Northern Virginia. Elected officials including Supervisor John Foust, Japanese and Korean representatives, and human rights activists gathered to remember the women and girls who were forced into sexual slavery during WWII. Now the memorial stands sunlit on the back lawn of the Fairfax County Government Center, as a reminder for today’s community to take a stand against these crimes against humanity in their own neighborhoods.
The unveiling ceremony comprised a ceremonial ribbon cutting and butterfly release, artful performances, and a series of congratulatory and solemn remarks. The recent words of President Obama were repeated by Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues President Christine Choi, “‘Any of us who look back on the history of what happened to the Comfort Women here … have to recognize that this was a terrible, egregious violation of human rights. Those women were violated in ways that, even in the midst of war, was shocking.’”
Comfort Women survivor Il Chul Kang bore testimony of being kidnapped from her Japanese home to “serve” the military men who were stationed in South Korea. Many comfort women have since forgiven the Japanese for these actions, but are abashed it has taken over 50 years to address these wrongdoings. Del. Mark Keam (D-35) recognized the timely anniversary of D-Day. “We can’t undo the past … but we can ensure that this never happens again,” he said, “Those women didn’t die in vain.”
“We as a community must care for each other,” said Sharon Bulova, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. Inquiries about building the memorial initially began in her office, and the recent ceremony was the culmination of 18 months’ advocacy by Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues. The project not only pays respect to the county’s prominent Asian community, but also underlines its own authentic issue with human trafficking.
“Nobody really wants to talk about it,” said Grace Han Wolf, who served as honorary co-chair of the coalition’s Memorial Peace Garden Committee, “With two international airports and the nation’s Capitol, no one thinks twice about seeing a multi-ethnic group of women in this area.” But these are silent, often unseen crimes nestled in homes and shopping centers. And they won’t go away without the consciousness of the community. “Be on the lookout. Don’t be complacent; be vigilant,” she said.
The website www.justaskva.org is the ultimate resource of 24/7 telephone hotlines and awareness information for the state of Virginia. The county has also collaborated on the Polaris Initiative, offering resources devoted to alleviating the issue of human trafficking in the area.
The Polaris Hotline can be reached at any time, any day of the year at 1-888-373-7888. Call 911 in case of immediate emergency. Crime tips can also be reported to 703-246- 4006.