Gender Based Violence

Comfort Women: The Unknown Travesty of World War II

Image Courtesy of Jan Banning (
Image Courtesy of Jan Banning (

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