The island of Taiwan became a colonial territory of Japan in 1895; 20 years later become a protectorate of that country, and five years later Korea officially became Japan’s colony. Korea was controlled by Japan through the beginning of the start of World War II, and it was from there that they waged the war of aggression against China (Argibay.) Japan’s goal was to create an Asia-Pacific Empire which it would dominate. In order to fight the Chinese, Japan established a “state” known as Manchuria, and which was completely controlled by Japanese military forces.
These troops traveled across mainland Asia, while its officers committed brutal atrocities; for example, in 1937 the “Rape of Nanking” involved Japanese forces committing widespread rape of young girls and women as well as monstrous treatment of the civilian population. When word of these barbaric actions spread across the international community, Emperor Hirohito was shocked as well, and sought to find ways to restore Japan’s honor following global condemnation. His aides proposed reforms to the military, but also established the creation of the “comfort stations”, which were actually facilities set up in which Japanese military troops could receive sexual satisfaction from women who were essentially held as sex slaves.
The “comfort women” were held at the stations simply for the enjoyment of Japanese military troops, and many of them had been trafficked from distant countries including Korea. They were unable to speak the local language, were imprisoned in the facilities, and experienced abuse if they did not go along with the orders of their captors. That way, they were not able to share any military secrets of which they became aware. In all, tens of thousands of Korean women were forced to work in brothels in Japan between the early 1930s until 1945 (Sang- Hun.)
Generally, comfort women were very young females between the ages of 14 and 18, usually uneducated and coming from families living in poverty in rural Korea. Approximately 80% of these women were Korean, although the rest of that population came from other Asian countries as well as a small number of European women. The Japanese government did not support the use of Japanese women in comfort stations and they were the potential mothers of Japan’s future loyal subjects (Lee.) In addition, it was anticipated that soldiers would not have faith in the government or the military if they found that their female relatives such as sisters or wives had been recruited to serve as comfort women.
In modern times, there has been a great deal of criticism of the Japanese approach to the issue of “comfort women” since that country has been accused of failing to pursue a comprehensive, impartial and lasting resolution of sexual slavery during wartime; this has resulted in the continuing violation of human rights of these women decades after the end of World War II (United Nations Human Rights Commission.) The women who were victimized and survive today have been demanding that Japan provide reparations to compensate them for their pain, suffering, humiliation, and the loss of their honor and dignity. At the same time, Japan has been attempting to establish a type of compensatory reparation approach that they believed would be fair to the women and to erase the tremendous stain on their international reputation for this particular commission of war crimes.
It is estimated that less than 30% of all comfort women are still alive today (Lee.) Many of them died in the comfort stations, because of the brutality of the work as well as the violence of the war, diseases, or were killed by soldiers who became enraged if they were disobedient. Still more women die when the war ended when Japanese soldiers committed suicide, forcing the comfort women to kill themselves as well to avoid being captured by the enemy. Of those who survived, only the Japanese women returned to their native lands while women from Korea and other countries were abandoned at the location of their stations (Lee.) These women were stranded in remote areas, vulnerable to harsh weather conditions and had no way to return home. They frequently had no clothing, had to eat whatever they could find in the jungle including palms, lizards, and corpses.
Large numbers of comfort women who returned home or tried to start new lives were so traumatized by their histories in the stations that they had limitless physical and psychological problems. Besides the physical injuries that they may have experienced, women who were formerly comfort women have been diagnosed with long-term impacts of sexually transmitted diseases such as sterility and infertility, complications due to hysterectomies, sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, and mental illnesses including PTSD and depression. Complicating these problems was the lack of sympathy and support from Asian society because of the patriarchal perspective of Asian culture that value chastity and morality. Many of the women remain silent about their ordeals, because of fear of being ostracized or even beaten to death by relatives if they knew the truth about them.
There has been ongoing debate in recent years about Japan’s role in providing reparations to the surviving comfort women. Although there is actually no way to make up for what has been done to them, the international community as well as the survivors feel strongly that Japan must be held to account in some way. Japan’s response has varied from denying that comfort women were forced into sex slavery by making an effort to formally change the perception that comfort women were coerced in any way (Kotler.) Eventually, however, Japan was pressured into paying approximately $8.3 million to compensate Korean women for their forced sex slavery in brothels during World War II (Calamur.) In any event, the pain and suffering of these survivors is real, and the question remains: how can they possibly be reimbursed for the horrific brutality and degradation that they experienced at the hands of Japanese military?