WWII Comfort Women

Who Were The Comfort Women?

  • Comfort Women were women and girls, who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army in occupied territories before and during World War II. The name “comfort women” is a translation of the Japanese ianfu, a euphemism for prostitute(s).
  • How many: Estimates vary as to how many women were involved, with numbers ranging from as low as 200,000 to as high as 400,000.  The exact numbers are still being researched and debated.
  • Where the women came from: Many of the women were from Japan and Japanese occupied countries around the Pacific Rim including Korea, China, the Philippines, Burma, Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia,Taiwan, Indonesia, East Timor, and more.
  • How were comfort women obtained: Young women from countries under Imperial Japanese rule were abducted from their homes.  Also, in many cases, women were also lured with promises of work in factories or restaurants.  They were lied to and offered money, an opportunity to pay off family debts, easy work, and the prospect of a new life in a new land.  Once recruited, the women were incarcerated in comfort stations both in their nation and abroad.
  • The reason for comfort women: In addition to believing the Japanese army would perform better with the “comfort of a woman,” the aim of facilitating comfort stations was the prevention of rape crimes committed by Japanese army personnel, which they ultimately believed would also prevent the rise of hostility among people in occupied areas.
  • First Station: The first comfort station was established in the Japanese concession in Shanghai in 1932. Earlier comfort women were Japanese prostitutes who volunteered for such service. However, as Japan continued military expansion, the military found itself short of Japanese volunteers, and turned to the local population to coerce, or abduct, women into serving in these stations. Many women responded to calls for work as factory workers or nurses, and did not know that they were being pressed into sexual slavery.  Stations were widespread throughout all Japanese, occupied countries.
  • Treatment: Within stations, women were raped, beaten, and physically tortured repeatedly every day and night.  If a woman became pregnant, she was forced to have an abortion, or killed. Approximately three quarters of comfort women died, and most survivors were left infertile due to sexual trauma, surgery that made them infertile, or sexually transmitted diseases.

Comfort Women Today

The Demand for a Formal Apology and Compensation

  • Since 1951, the Japanese government has attempted to give the remaining comfort women a formal apology and compensation.  However, all of the attempts have been dissatisfying.
  • The most recent attempt occurred on December 28, 2015, where the South Korean and Japanese governments believe they have “finally and irreversibly” resolved and settled the issue.
  • The Most Current Agreement: While Japan agreed to give $8.3 million to a fund supporting surviving victims, South Korea promised to not speak poorly of Japan, regarding the issue and has even removed their comfort women, memorializing statue.  The statue has been in place, since 2011. It is a bronze sculpture of a young woman in a hanbok, with her hands clenched in her lap, and seated in chair, staring impassively.

What’s Wrong with the Current Apology

  • There are only about 46 elderly comfort women left, and their requests still have not been met. The women were left with emotional and physical traumas that have failed to be  recognized, and defamations upon them were not properly restituted.
  • In addition, the Japanese are not owning up to their actions and are trying to erase history and not let the issue be publicly known, where they are going to the extent of not including the topic in the Japanese public school history curriculum.

Written by Crissy Cummings, participant of KEP 2018

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