Jan Ruff-O’Herne, Who Told of Wartime Rape by the Japanese, Dies at 96

Jan Ruff-O’Herne, Who Told of Wartime Rape by the Japanese, Dies at 96


She also told her future husband, Tom Ruff, a British soldier, before they were married in 1946. He was an understanding man, she wrote, but she could not fully discuss what had happened, even with him, and she was never able to enjoy sex.

That frustration was just one of the lasting effects of her trauma. She hated flowers because the Japanese had stripped the women of their names and called them by the names of flowers. Beds looked monstrous to her. “Going to bed would arouse in me a feeling of apprehension,” she wrote. When it got dark at night, she continued, “this fear comes over me again, because getting dark meant being raped over and over again.”

Her fear extended to doctors, because the doctor who had come to the brothel to “examine” her for venereal disease would rape her before every examination while other men watched.

“Each time he raped me during the daytime,” she wrote, “as if it were a part of the process.”

Ms. Ruff-O’Herne and her husband settled in Adelaide, Australia, in 1960, and she became a teacher in Catholic primary schools there. They tried for years to have children, she said, but those attempts ended in miscarriages because of the internal damage she had suffered from multiple rapes. She eventually underwent surgery and gave birth to two daughters, Eileen and Carol.

Her daughters, grandchildren and great-grandchildren survive her. Her husband died in 1995.

Ms. Ruff-O’Herne wanted to speak out on behalf of the “comfort women” after seeing the Korean rape victims on television in 1992. But she had still not revealed her secret to her children or close friends.

“How can you tell your daughters, you know?” she said later. “I mean, the shame, the shame was still so great. I knew I had to tell them, but I couldn’t tell them face to face.”

Instead, she wrote down her story in a notebook and handed it to her daughter Carol as Carol was boarding an airplane. Carol said later that she had sobbed for the entire flight as she absorbed her mother’s experience. The story became Ms. Ruff-O’Herne’s memoir.



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