Abducted as kids, survivors of Brothers Home recount atrocities as adults

Posted on : 2022-08-25 17:17 KST Modified on : 2022-08-25 17:17 KST
A recent fact-finding investigation into the abusive facility showed that women and girls were detained at the psychiatric ward at a rate four times higher than that of men
Lim Myeong-suk, a survivor of a South Korean “vagrants facility” known as Brothers Home, speaks with the Hankyoreh on Aug. 23 in South Gyeongsang Province. (Jang Ye-ji/The Hankyoreh)
Lim Myeong-suk, a survivor of a South Korean “vagrants facility” known as Brothers Home, speaks with the Hankyoreh on Aug. 23 in South Gyeongsang Province. (Jang Ye-ji/The Hankyoreh)

“Sure, Chun Doo-hwan died and Lee Soon-ja apologized for the past. But what good is an apology by a third party? The stigma of ‘Brothers Home’ haunting us won’t go away.”

Lim Myeong-suk, 52, always repressed the terrible memories from the six years she spent trapped in a “vagrants facility” known as Brothers Home starting in 1981. Lim was taken to Brothers Home when she was only 11 years old and still longing for her mother’s embrace.

“I was reluctant to apply for a fact-finding investigation. I was scared of being harassed. But now, I don’t care. I told my family about this for the first time last year.” Lim had harbored a deep distrust of Brothers Home, which had imprisoned her, as well as of the state, which had turned a blind eye to the atrocities that took place there.

Although survivors of Brothers Home have been raising awareness about the human rights violations they suffered and demanding investigations into their case for more than 10 years, women survivors like Lim have rarely come forward.

“Oftentimes, women survivors are reluctant to apply for a fact-finding investigation because they haven’t told their family about their internment at Brothers Home. They found it difficult to come forward, especially because of sexual assault cases that happened within Brothers Home. Some victims registered their case with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission after a lot of convincing,” said Park Gyeong-bo, head of the advisory committee of the Brothers Home Victims Council.

Ahead of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission’s Wednesday announcement of the results of its fact-finding investigation into human rights violations at Brothers Home, the Hankyoreh interviewed two women survivors of the facility who live in South Chungcheong Province and South Gyeongsang Province, respectively, on Monday and Tuesday. These two women spoke about their miserable lives at Brothers Home as well as the hard life that followed.

Now a mother to two daughters, Lim began her story by stating, “The time I went to a psychiatric ward [a sanatorium within Brothers Home] and group punishment — these two things I can’t forget.”

After she was admitted to Brothers Home, Lim worked at a factory every day without days off, from 6 am to 11 pm. There were female guards in the living quarters, which were called “platoons,” but during group punishment, Lim and the other interned women would often get beatings from male guards.

“One day, I got hit on the nose really hard and blood poured out of my nostrils, but I had to endure the pain without proper medical treatment,” Lim said.

When she was 13, Lim pretended to have a stomachache in order to get a break from work, but she was taken to the psychiatric ward, not the infirmary.

“When I pretended to be sick, the teacher beat us and then took us to the psychiatric ward, and the teacher handed us medicine, saying it was good for us. Taking that medicine sent me straight to sleep. I took that medicine for four straight days, and I couldn’t take it anymore,” Lim shared. “After that, even when I was actually sick, I kept my mouth shut and worked, because I was scared I’d be sent there again.”

Lim was released in 1987, but the joints of her fingers are still distorted from her long years of labor and group punishment.

According to the commission’s Wednesday announcement, evidence was found suggesting that internees who were labeled “misfits” or “rebels” were arbitrarily given psychiatric medication, with the psychiatric ward within Brothers Home functioning as a “probationary platoon.”

The commission confirmed that Brothers Home purchased 250,000 tablets of chlorpromazine (used to treat symptoms of schizophrenia), which can fill one-year-long twice-a-day prescriptions for 342 people.

The commission explained, “Women were detained at the psychiatric ward at a rate four times higher than that of men, and the rate of death by schizophrenia was much higher in women than men as well.”

“Kim” (a pseudonym) who was admitted to Brothers Home in 1980 at the age of 11, was tasked to babysit the child of Park In-geun’s relative at the private home of the owner of Brothers Home. She clearly remembered how Park’s daughter headed to school dressed in a uniform.

“Why don’t they send me to school?” she wondered. Kim was released from Brothers Home in 1987 as a teenager, but no one took her in.

“I didn’t know what to do after getting out of there,” Kim shared. “I was young, but bars would always hire me. I hadn’t learned anything. Working at bars led to getting in debt, after which I wasn’t even able to run and had to go work at other bars [that they sent me to]. I lived there until my 30s, not knowing what movies were, not knowing what good food tasted like, just so I could pay off my debt. If I had any sort of education, I wouldn’t have gone to such a place… I didn’t have anywhere to go.”

Kim sobbed as she shared her story. She also said she once ran into a woman whom she had seen at Brothers Home in the Manwol neighborhood of Busan but pretended not to recognize her.

The times spent at Brothers Home still haunted the two women, having left scars that wouldn’t heal. Lim struggles to fall asleep at night to this day due to a sleep disorder.

“At Brothers Home, I had to be on night watch. Being on night watch makes you a light sleeper. I’ve never really gotten a good night’s sleep. To this day, I’m scared of not being able to wake up once I fall asleep, so I have a hard time falling asleep,” Lim shared.

Kim worked for one bar after another, experiencing dependence on alcohol and cigarettes, and sometimes harmed herself.

“When I’m really angry, I can’t control myself,” Kim shared. “It might be because I spent my young days in a military-like environment [at Brothers Home], getting scolded and punished if I didn’t act properly.”

By Jang Ye-ji, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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