Campaigner against rape during war remembered  

Campaigner against rape during war remembered  

A former Dutch prisoner of war on the island of Java, Jan Ruff-O’Herne, has died after spending her later years campaigning against the use of rape during warfare. 

During the Second World War in February 1944 Ruff-O’Herne was lined up in the camp, where she had been held with her mother and sisters, along with all females over 17 and selected to be taken to the capital, Semarang. 

Seven of the girls were taken to an old colonial house filled with possessions left by the former Dutch owners. Most of the young women were virgins and unmarried, Ruff-O’Herne said. 

“We were here so that the Japanese military could have sex with us,” Ruff-O’Herne said. “We had become sex slaves.”

As a 21-year-old she said a “large, repulsive, fat, bald-headed” Japanese officer drew his sword.

“He stood right over me now, pointing the sword at my body,” Ruff-O’Herne wrote in Fifty Years of Silence in 1994.

“He threw me on the bed and tore at my clothes, ripping them off,” she wrote. “I lay there naked on the bed as he ran his sword slowly up and down, over my body.

“He threw himself on top of me, pinning me down under his heavy body.

“I could smell the sweat of his body and his putrid breath. With all of my strength, I tried to fight him off. I kicked him, I scratched him, but he was too strong.”

They were named after a Japanese flower and given a vase of flowers to put in their bedrooms. “Mine were white orchids,” she said. “For the next 50 years, I would have a profound dislike of flowers.”

Ruff-O’Herne said she was raped for three months, day and night, by numerous Japanese officers, before being sent back to Ambarawa prison camp. She said the camp was “infested with bugs, lice and cockroaches”. At night rats would run over their toes and sometimes nibble them. The women had to bow from the waist for roll call.

She said her guards told her that if she spoke of her experiences, she and her family would be killed. 

Ruff-O’Herne, who died last month in Australia at 96, was one of around 200,000 women in Japanese-occupied territory who were forced into sexual slavery. Most of them were Korean and Ruff-O’Herne was one of the few Europeans.

In 1992, Ruff-O’Herne was reportedly the first European woman to publicly describe the rapes, beatings and abuse at the hands of the Japanese. 

From then on she sought justice for the “comfort women”, which was a euphemism she refused to use. 

“We were war rape victims, enslaved and conscripted by the Japanese Imperial Army,” she said. 



The fall of Singapore in early 1942 left the rest of Southeast Asia exposed to the Japanese. Picture credit: Wikimedia 


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