Researching the Indonesian so called ‘Comfort Women’ during the Japanese Occupation of the Netherlands East Indies: Between the Archives and Testimonial Accounts

Room 920
Melbourne Law School
185 Pelham Street


Speaker: Assoc Prof Kate McGregor, School of Historical and Philosophical Studies, University of Melbourne


To date analyses of the experiences of Indonesian so called ‘comfort women’, who were abused during the Japanese Occupation of the Netherlands East Indies have focused largely on either piecing together fragmentary documentary evidence from Dutch or Japanese archives or on more extensive use of the testimonies of surviving women often provided many years after the occupation. Rarely have these sources been combined together. Scholars working on this history face multiple challenges including not only linguistic restrictions, but how to combine these sources which have often been produced for discrete purposes. In the Japanese case this included reports prepared for the invasion; in the Dutch case it included documenting crimes against the Dutch or treasonous behaviour; and in the case of human rights activists it included documenting women’s stories in their own right and the details of crimes against the women. In this paper I will survey the documentary and testimonial evidence available and provide examples of some of the nuances of Dutch and Indonesian women’s experiences of sexual violence during the occupation. I argue that both forms of evidence are very important, but following feminist methodologies is it also necessary to try to contextualize women’s actions, experiences and the constraints they faced as women living through a military occupation.


Associate Professor Kate McGregor is a historian of Indonesia. Her research interests include Indonesian historiography, memories of violence, the Indonesian military, Islam and identity in Indonesia and historical international links between Indonesia and the world. She teaches in the areas of Southeast Asian history, the history of violence and Asian thematic history. Kate is currently undertaking an Australian Research Council Future Fellowship on the project: Confronting Historical Injustice in Indonesia: Memory and Transnational Human Rights Activism examining the cases of Indonesian victims of human rights crimes during the Japanese occupation; the independence struggle and the 1965 repression. She has published widely on the topic of Indonesian memory, transnational political activism and historical justice. She is a member of the Steering Committee for the Alliance for Historical Dialogue and Accountability and a Board Member for the Herb Feith Foundation.

MAEVe Seminar Series

The Melbourne Research Alliance to End Violence Against Women and their Children (MAEVe) was established in 2015 to draw together research and evaluation capacity across the University, in partnership with community, industry and government agencies, to respond to this pressing challenge.

MAEVe strives to make a difference to the lives of women, families and communities by addressing and preventing violence against women through interdisciplinary and intra-institutional collaboration.

MAEVe's lunchtime seminar series is held fortnightly (with the exception of holidays)

Semester 2 Program

All events are held on Tuesdays between 1pm and 2pm at Melbourne Law School, 185 Pelham Street, Carlton.

25 Jul920Violence and Disability: Contemplating the IntersectionsJessica Cadwallader
8 Aug224Children's Voices in Family Violence Practice and ResearchAnita Morris
22 Aug920Sexual Violence and the Culture of ImpunityDolly Kikon
5 Sep920New Psychological Perspectives on Objectification and Violence Against WomenAdriana Vargas Saenz and Michelle Stratemeyer
19 Sep920Securing Muslim Women's Safety: Organising Against Domestic Violence in the 'Age of Terror'Amy Piedalue
10 Oct223Understanding Women's Mobility and Empowerment in Bangladesh's Garment IndustryRimi Khan
24 Oct920Gender and Activism for Indonesian Survivors of Enforced Military Prostitution during the Japanese Occupation of the Netherlands East IndiesKate McGregor
14 Nov224Intervention Orders Online: Early Results of an Evaluation of the Online Application for FVIOs in Three Magistrates' CourtsStuart Ross
28 Nov224Violence Against Women in Indian Print MediaAmanda Gilbertson