2 Former ‘Comfort Women’ Meet With White House Officials

Lee Ok-Seon (front left) and Kang Il-chul (front right) pose with Paulette Aniskoff (back left), the director of the Office of Public Engagement and another White House official during a closed-door meeting on July 30.


A recent series of meetings between two Korean “comfort women” survivors and White House aides is being hailed as a potential turning point in the longstanding struggle for redress for the victims of sexual slavery.

Lee Ok-Seon, 87, and Kang Il-chul, 85, who have been touring the U.S. the last few weeks, met with Paulette Aniskoff, the White House director of the Office of Public Engagement, on July 30, South Korean media reported. Though it was a closed-door meeting, Aniskoff took to Twitter this week, posting a picture with Lee and Kang, along with the caption: “Met with two brave Korean ‘comfort women,’ Ok-seon Lee and Il-chul Kang, last week; their stories are heartbreaking.”

The next day, the women also met with State Department officials from the Japan and Korea desks, according to the Korea JoongAng Daily. A potential follow-up meeting—one advocates hope will lead to Washington pressuring Japan on the matter—is in the works, the newspaper said.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki confirmed the pair’s meeting with State Department officials and also issued a statement urging the Japanese government to “continue to address this issue in a manner that promotes healing.”

Lee and Kang flew in from Seoul as part of a three-week campaign in the U.S., visiting “comfort women” memorials and meeting with media and politicians to try and raise awareness about their ongoing fight. For decades, they, along with their supporters, have been asking Japan to apologize for victimizing as many as 200,000 girls and women, most of them from Korea, who were forced into sexually servicing soldiers during World War II.

U.S. Rep. Mike Honda, a Japanese American congressman from California and an ardent advocate for the “comfort women,” was instrumental in arranging the meetings in Washington, according to the JoongAng Daily.

They come at a key time in the “comfort women” debate, an issue gaining momentum lately especially in the U.S., with a number of memorials, from California to New Jersey and Virginia, being erected to call attention to the sex slave victims.

S. Korean 'comfort women' speak in defense of memorial

Lee Ok-seon, left, and Kang Il-chul, right, speak with the press in downtown Los Angeles. (Photo via Kyodo News.)

Navi Pillay, the UN high commissioner for human rights, also recently weighed in on the issue, expressing her “profound regret” that Japan has failed to resolve the issue, she said in a statement, Pillay noted that these women continue to confront denials and other offensive remarks from Japanese officials.

She was referring to Tokyo’s move to debunk the 1993 “Kono statement” made by the then-Chief Cabinet Secretary, Yohei Kono, who openly acknowledged the Imperial Army’s involvement of the coercion of girls into sex slavery during the Second World War. The current Shinzo Abe administration announced earlier this year that the statement was being re-examined, a move that further soured relations between Tokyo and Seoul.

The countries in conflict also happen to represent two key U.S. allies, so the issue is a sensitive one for the White House to negotiate.