Death of Comfort Woman Unleashes Internet Trolls

August 11th saw the passing of Lee Yong-nyeo, one of the few surviving Korean ‘comfort women’ who had been forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during the Pacific War. While Lee’s death was met with an outpouring of support and condolences, it also brought out anonymous netizens who denigrated her as a ‘prostitute’ or ‘rag’ not deserving of national respect. A screen capture of the worst comments, now in wide circulation, has angered the public, and Lee’s family has decided to file a lawsuit against the worst offenders for defamation.

Lee Yong-nyeo 2

The deeply insulting online comments illustrate the ongoing problem of ‘akpeul’ in Korean cyberspace, where some netizens exploit their anonymity to insult or spread malicious gossip about select individuals – often celebrities – without any justification. One high-profile example of akpeul this past spring targeted an 8-year-old boy named Hwang Min-woo, also known as ‘Little Psy’ from his role in the Gangnam Style music video, for having a Vietnamese mother.

The situation also speaks to the ambivalence in Korean society about the legacy of comfort women, whose victimhood disrupts the rightist desire to portray Korea’s past as strong and masculine. For example, the Restoration Society, an association for families and descendants of independence fighters, is one among a number of right-leaning civic organizations that have perennially opposed the plan to build a museum for comfort women near the Independence Gate in central Seoul, arguing that it would sully Korea’s national identity and memory of independence. Although such reasoning has lost much of its currency among Koreans, it still finds expression in the anonymous space of the internet.

From Yonhap News:

Passing of Former Comfort Woman Lee Yong-nyeo at 87

A victim of the Japanese military’s wartime sexual enslavement policy, Lee Yong-nyeo passed away on the 11th of this month. She was 87.

She took her last breath just before Independence Day, never receiving an official apology from Japan.

The House of Sharing in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, confirmed that Lee died at the Pocheon Medical Center at 2:30 a.m. from natural causes.

Lee was born in Yeoju, Gyeonggi Province, in 1926 and was forced to become a comfort woman at the age of 16.

Living in poverty, she was lured with a promise that she could make money in Japan, but after a month of travel from the port of Busan, she found herself in Yangon, Myanmar.

She suffered all manner of hardship as a sex slave to Japanese soldiers stationed there and returned to Korea one year after independence in 1946.

Even back in Korea, she led a difficult life, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder as well as spinal disc herniation.

But from 1995 onward, she lived at the House of Sharing, a facility for former comfort women, and worked tirelessly to publicize the barbaric acts of the Japanese military to the international community.

She traveled to Tokyo in 2000 to attend the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery, testifying that the forcible recruitment and rape of comfort women constituted war crimes against humanity according to international law.

She won, but Japan has never accepted the verdict given the civilian nature of the tribunal.

Last year she, along with nine other former comfort women, filed a lawsuit against Suzuki Nobuyuki at the Seoul District Prosecutors’ Office for tampering with the comfort women memorial in front of the Japanese embassy.

Lee left the House of Sharing at the end of last year in accordance with her wish to spend the remainder of her life with her son. But she was hospitalized last month after becoming unable to eat. She died ten days later.

Comments from Naver:


Comfort women should receive an apology from the Japanese before all of them pass away.


If only you could have received an official Japanese apology before passing away… My condolences.


I am sorry. I am sorry… Have a safe journey…


Japan is a disgusting country for sure.


I hope that in heaven you will live in happiness with a loving family.


I am a student and the same age as when you were taken away. I will become a great person, correcting Japan’s wrongdoings and history and making them recognize their shame. Please don’t worry any more and sleep well.


We may have our country now, but it has not been able to lend you strength. I am sorry that you had to pass away without receiving an apology for all the wrongs you have suffered. It saddens me deeply.


My condolensces… I hope your next life will be full of good things.


I hope that in death you will forget everything that happened during your life and rest easy.


My condolensces…and I am sorry…

From Yonhap News:

Extremely malicious comments on news of former comfort woman Lee Yong-nyeo’s passing…the bereaved decide to sue

Extremely malicious comments on the news of former comfort woman Lee Yong-nyeo’s passing have enraged netizens. The bereaved decided to sue the netizens who wrote the comments. On various web portal and community message boards, a screencapture of indescribably malicious comments has been posted.


Controversial comments from Naver chosen by a netizen:



A rag deserves to go. [Note: ‘rag’ is a slang term equivalent to ‘slut’] Ke ke ke ke ke.


What a media ruckus over the death of a single whore. It’s ruined my day. Really.


Japan dealt with compensation issues during President Park Chung-hee’s rule. It was clearly written in the bilateral agreement they made back in 1965. I don’t believe it is right to ask for compensation and an apology when compensation has been given already. Of course Japan should be strongly criticized by the international community for distorting historical facts. But as for compensation and apologies we have no right to say anything. If you want compensation, ask the Korean government which received money from Japan. You can argue against me if you think I am wrong.


They are causing a ruckus just because some leftover disposable supplies from the Japanese imperial forces has died. Tsk tsk.


Grandma, live happily ever after in hell. When you get there, Emperor Hirohito and Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi will be waiting. All you have to do is spread your legs.


Fucking whore rags should all have died already. Fantastic.


I live in Japan…and there are a lot of Korean prostitutes. That grannie is the same.


A rag has died?? Let’s rinse and wipe the floor with her. He he he.


I wouldn’t want to date a dirty woman who has been sexually assaulted.

Comments from Nate:

Even if they cry and beg for mercy on their knees, please punish them by law. They need to be punished as a warning to others. The bereaved must have been hurt by the trashy comments. I hope they feel better.


How can they do this on news like that…to an old woman this country couldn’t protect. I’m so angry. Please sue and punish them!!!!


Those akpeulers don’t regard former comfort women as humans just like the Japanese army didn’t.


Ilbe should be designated as a harmful website.


Ilbe bastards should be identified to the public.


Ilbe bug bastards. I wonder how on earth they were educated. I’m ashamed to breathe with those brainless humans. Their world revolves around fighting jongpuk and lefty commies. Nothing else matters. How can they do crazy sh*t on a victim of Japanese imperialism. The only solution is using pesticide on them.


All of them will definitely beg for mercy when they get caught, huh? Claiming they didn’t know it could be taken seriously… Show no mercy and punish them as a warning… If you forgive them, they will blame their luck and go back to writing more malicious comments. At this opportunity, sue sue sue sue sue sue sue all of them!!


Ilbe is digging their own grave. Good.


Really akpeulers… They are like nuclear waste.


Ilbe trash aren’t commenting here because they are scared. They must be claiming victory back on their site.

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