Gender Based Violence

Comfort Women: The Unknown Travesty of World War II

Image Courtesy of Jan Banning (www.JanBanning.com)
Image Courtesy of Jan Banning (www.JanBanning.com)

Growing up, most every student learns about the tragedies of World War II and the Holocaust. The war engulfed nations around the world in bloodshed, spanning from Europe to North America to Southeast Asia, with major consequences for Jewish populations. However, often overlooked is the plight of women during World War II.  In particular, the suffering “comfort women” endured by the Japanese Imperial Army goes nearly unknown.

Representing several occupied countries including Korea, China, and the Philippines, “comfort women” were essentially slaves forced to provide sexual services to men in the Japanese Imperial Army. Often kidnapped or tricked into following military officials, an estimated 200,000 “comfort women” suffered from repeated rapes, physical torture, and beatings at “comfort stations” throughout occupied countries. Many victims died as a result of their injuries while others became infertile due to sexual trauma and/or sexually transmitted diseases. In South Korea, only 63 former “comfort women” survive today.

Japanese soldier Yasuji Kaneki recalls his experiences:

“The women cried out, but it didn’t matter to us whether the women lived or died. We were the emperor’s soldiers. Whether in military brothels or in the villages, we raped without reluctance.”

In many of the aforementioned countries, female sexuality is taboo.  As a result, survivors have refused to tell personal accounts of the tragedy; however, that is changing as the years progress. The Korean Council for Women Drafted for Sexual Slavery in Japan is an NGO that works to restore victims’ dignity and resolve crimes of sexual slavery. The NGO’s objectives include the following:

  1. Acknowledge the war crime;
  2. Reveal the truth in its entirety about the crimes of military sexual slavery;
  3. Make Japan offer an official apology;
  4. Make legal reparations;
  5. Punish those responsible for the war crime;
  6. Accurately record the crime in history textbooks; and
  7. Erect a memorial for the victims of the military sexual slavery and establish a historical museum.

To this day, the Japanese government refuses to acknowledge or apologize for former wrongdoings, causing tensions between the South Korean and Japanese governments to remain high. Outside the Japanese embassy in South Korea stands a memorial statue commemorating “comfort women,” while Japanese government officials continue to argue for the statue’s demolition. Redressed depending on the weather, the female statue serves as a constant reminder to the Japanese of their unacknowledged war crimes.  Every Wednesday, women hold demonstrations next to the statue and demand a formal apology.  The 1000th demonstration was held on December 14, 2011.

Photo Courtesy of Ella Hurrell
Photo Courtesy of Ella Hurrell

Like Nyiem, a survivor who was kidnapped and raped repeatedly at 10 years old, describes her experience:

“I was so young. Within two months my body was completely destroyed. I was nothing but a toy, as a human being I meant nothing.”

With the 57th annual Commission on the Status of Women upon us, we must remember, acknowledge, and learn from the horrors of the past in order to best eliminate and prevent similar acts of violence in the future.

For more information on “comfort women,” please visit the following:

Comfort Women: Untold Stories of Wartime Abuse – NPR

PHOTOS: Comfort Women

Time Running Out for Korean “Comfort Women” – CNN

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Category: Gender Based Violence    Health
Tagged with: Comfort Women    Japan    Korea    Rape    Sexual Violence    Sexual Violence in Conflict    Violence against women    Women    World War II

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  • Avatar

    I recently had a chance to see that many people might not know that the USA government has already published the official document about the comfort women in WW-II. Then I think this would be worthwhile reading. It says that A “comfort girl” is nothing more than a prostitute or “professional camp follower” attached to the Japanese Army for the benefit of the soldiers.” The document is located at http://www.exordio.com/1939-1945/codex/Documentos/report-49-USA-orig.html

  • Avatar

    Regarding the modern comfort women issue, we can make some outstanding progress. One is that the official document of the South Korean government was found, which shows the government managed comfort women directly for the business to the USA army after WW-II. This document has the South Korean president signature. The other is that the South Korean media finally reported that over one million South Korean women who have been forced to be sex slaves by the South Korean government should be rescued and/or compensated. Now it’s time for the South Korean government to admit this worst sex crime in the world history and apologize for it.

    • Avatar
      Elisabeth Epstein

      Thank you for your very interesting links and opinions. Although I agree that comfort women is still an ongoing problem, with this entry I chose to focus on a certain point in history that often goes overlooked. By raising awareness of both past and present instances of sexual slavery, we will be better able to prevent such violence in the future.

  • Avatar

    Thank you for the links to these sunstantial articles. They bring to light important research on the modern state of affairs of the practice of Comfort Women.

    • Avatar
      Elisabeth Epstein

      Thank you! I agree. We must focus on both past and present violence against women in order to better prevent such acts today, tomorrow, and for future generations.

      • Avatar
        popo

        Ms. Epstein, I admire your effort to protect women’s rights, but please do study correct history. If you watch this comfort women presentation with firm evedence, you’ll see that you’re making a huge mistake. Spreading wrong information without studying enough is a really bad thing. Many Japanese women and kids in America are suffering now for what they did not do… http://youtu.be/aqvMNKWOW7g

  • Avatar
    Modern Comfort Women

    Again, I’d like to raise the current comfort women issue. Actually I don’t care about the comfort women issue Japanese army caused. That’s the history and over. Also it was just a problem lasting for five years or so though it was during the war time. However, the current comfort women problem has been going on for over half a century. Yes, the comfort women issue is still going on — they changed the customers from the Japanese army to the USA army, but their business has kept on going. Please read the Stanford or Rhode Island university reports. They’re a free report, then you can see who is behind the scene. This looks the nation related problem because the government seems involved, and perhaps that’s why it’s so hard for people to know this problem.

    Modern day comfort women – University of Rhode Island.
    http://www.uri.edu/artsci/wms/hughes/modern_day_comfort_women.pdf

    Also you can visit the page (modern comfort women) to know more, which is https://www.facebook.com/pages/Modern-Comfort-Women/389352384499538

  • Pingback: Philippine women angry on Japanese Prime Minister Abe’s denial of WWII sexual slavery | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  • Avatar
    michael mazur

    Some years ago in a Israeli online news outlet it had been reported that the Germans at the direction of SS boss Heinrich Himmler had set up brothels in ten of their concentration camps. The condition attaching to the use of those facilities was that the inmates of the concentration camps had to show improved productivity before they were given a coupon to present at the door.

    Curiously, Jewish women were not used to staff these facilities. Instead, local German women who had committed some minor infraction, like stealing bread, were given the option of working off the penalty in these facilities, but by what measure was not reported.

    Certainly, the working conditions of these women far surpassed what happened to the ‘comfort women’ of Asia, or, equally shocking, what happened to some 2,000,000 German women and girls – some as young as eight, during 1944/47, when Russian troops invaded Germany from the east.

    That we often hear of the ‘comfort women’ of Asia, and never of the similar atrocity happening to an order of magnitude greater number of German women is because the Russians were the war time Allies, and also because the women and prepubescent girls were German, which somehow made horrific abuses of them by a invading horde, a fitting punishment visited on them for the fraudulent allegations made against the German men at war’s end.

    Curiously, in the Israeli news outlet there was no mention of ill treatment of the German women in those brothels set up under the direction of Himmler. However, since that Israeli report came out, there has been a profusion of lurid writing correcting that neutral treatment by that Israeli news report.

  • Avatar

    Thanks Elisabeth for shining a light on this! It is so important that governments recognize these horriffic war crimes against women. To make a change we need to start by raising awareness. Thanks for doing that.

  • Avatar

    Fantastic post….I feel this is an issue that deserves more attention and you did a great job writing this piece.

  • Avatar

    Thanks for posting Elisabeth! This was really insightful history of girls and women during this time.

  • Avatar

    I was greatly moved by this memorial for the Korean Comfort Women from WW2. It stands opposite the Japanese Embassy awaiting an apology and there is a silent vigil every Wednesday as a reminder. Thank you for writing this piece so elegantly Elisabeth.

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