How Comfort Women in Indonesia Used Tattoos to Escape Rape

During World War II, a group of local women in the tiny island of Timor heavily tattooed themselves in a bid to avoid sexual slavery

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28 December 2018, 11:00am

When the Japanese Imperial Army occupied countries across Southeast Asia during World War II, soldiers kidnapped thousands of young women to serve as “comfort women” or forced sex workers. But on the tiny island of Timor, local women figured out how to use the Japanese forces’ apparent respect for married women against them and save themselves from sexual slavery.

These women chose to heavily tattoo themselves—thus marking them as “taken” or married according to local beliefs. The plan worked. Japanese soldiers avoided the tattooed women of Malaka, Timor, and the women were able to avoid the dark fate that hundreds of thousands of others were forced into.

Many believe that the ritual stopped taking place in the 60s when the New Order regime perpetuated the criminal stereotype for the tattooed. Today, only a few of these “tattooed women” remain alive.

VICE host Kathleen Malay traveled to Malaka to hear their stories.