The Comfort Women of WW2

Human trafficking can be manifested in many ways, from sexual exploitation and forced labor, to organ harvesting as well as others. Here I will focus on the comfort women from World War Two. Women who were trafficked to being sexual slaves for the Japanese military, organized by the Japanese Government. I will give a brief history of how comfort stations came to be. What happened to the women, for them to have gotten trafficked, and for them once they were sexual slaves. What has the government done, and why is it important to write about it now.
When one is considering human trafficking I’m sure most people have their own ideas of who commits the trafficking, and who is trafficked. One way it is portrayed in media is, these are acts committed by barbaric people who are inhumane and uncivilized, far in the past nothing like this is happening now. Its hard for us to imagine that a powerful government would organize sex trafficking. Even with many aware that there was a problem, it still bears remembering this is not an extinct problem. It is very much a part of our not to distant past, our present, and if nothing is done our future. If we do not learn about what has happened, why its happened, who did it, and what’s being done to prevent it again then we are at risk of repeating the past. Not only that, remembering the suffering of those who came before us and learning from it, can show that the ones who suffered that their lives mattered.
Japans military brothels:
Well before the start of the Second World War, the Japanese military had brothels. From 1932 there were brothels for the men in the military, housed by Japanese sex workers. But it wasn’t until 1937 that there was a boom in, what will be called, comfort stations. Where military men could have their sexual needs met. The event that in a way made the government feel this was necessary would be later known as The Rape of Nanking. Before the Second World War Japan had its eyes set on colonizing and taking over other Asian countries. During this time the Japanese military were in China, making attempts to colonize, and that’s when the massacre in Nanking happened.
On December 13th 1937 the Japanese army had reached the Chinese city of Nanking and for the next 6 weeks the military not only murdered tens of thousands of people in the city, they also raped between 20,000 to 80,000 Chinese women. This atrocity shocked the world as people could not believe such a violation of human rights could happen in this time. The time had felt so progressive, and yet something so barbaric and uncivilized happened. The world being appalled at this egregious act was not ignored by the Japanese government, who were very concerned with their image to the world. And so their solution was? To make their brothels more wide spread and organized to prevent this from ever happening again. What was failed to be noticed was that, forcing women into sexual slavery was not better than coming to a town and raping the women who lived there.
Comfort Stations:
Setting up comfort stations was not comfortable for the women, this was a serious violation of human rights, as well as a barbaric example of human trafficking. For clarification for something to be considered to be human trafficking there have to be 3 criteria met: The Act (what is done; recruitment, transport, harboring), The means (how is it done; coercion, abduction, deception, abuse of power), and The Purpose (why is this done; forced labor, sexual slavery, and other forms of exploitation). These women were drafted or abducted from Asian countries such as China, Korea, the Philippines, and more. Some were held in brothels (in the colonies as Japan did not allow comfort stations) where they would not be permitted to leave, being forced to engage in sexual acts with military men. Others were forced to follow the military as they were diploid and stationed in different places. Additionally if the military were forced to withdrawal they would abandon the women where they were. Leaving them to be at the mercy of the enemy.
As Japan had already colonized Korea 80% of the comfort women were Korean. They would be “drafted” and told they would be working as a nurse or a cleaning lady, only to be put in a brothel. Additionally during this time, vernal diseases were a problem, so the recruitment of women who had not yet had any sexual partners was seen as important. Young women, between 12-21 were very desired. Letting a man touch you is seen as huge shame for the women who were not yet married, as women who’ve been with a man were seen as sullen and no longer valuable. Meaning a great deal of these women not only killed themselves to avoid being raped but because they were raped. These “honorable” deaths helped contribute to the 90% of all comfort women not making it to the end of the Second World War.

For many of the women who survived the war most of them were badly hurt, disease had taken away limbs, teeth, the ability to bear children among other problems. Women who did manage to find a husband after the war hid their past and never spoke of it. The ones who did speak of it were treated as social outcasts, as if they were wrong for letting this happen to them. This shame is why it took so long for the stories of the comfort stations to get out.
Japanese Government and Accountability:
After the war the Japanese government refused to acknowledge what had happened, they continued to run the stations until 1946 when the stations were finally shut down. There was an estimated 20,000-410,000 women in 125+ brothels. Due to disease, inhuman conditions and treatment, and suicide, only 10% of comfort women made it to 1946. The stories went undocumented and the government just wanted to forget what happened. But in the 1980’s the women started to speak out, this was fueled, in part, by South Korea becoming a liberal democracy in 1987.
But even with a huge push from S Korea to acknowledge the comfort women, and what they did to them it took until 1993 for Japan to acknowledge that they committed these acts. And finally in 2015 the Japanese government finally agrees to pay reparations to the surviving women (only a few dozen women). The survivors and the advocacy groups trying to fight for these women feel as if this is too little.

It is important to know that this happened, Japan was not some uncivilized nation who did not have any sense of morality. And this did not happen at the beginning of civilization. We are so often taught about the things that happened during World War Two but the focus is usually on what the Germans did, and we don’t realize that they were not the only ones who committed acts against human rights. As it is important to learn about the holocaust it is important to learn about the comfort women. These women did not suffer for nothing, they need to be remembered, acknowledged, and taught about so as we never repeat this again. Education is the key to prevention.

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