The issue of “comfort women” has long been a contentious one between Korea and Japan. Scholars estimate that, during World War II, the Imperial Japanese Amry forced as many as 400,000 “comfort women” from Korea and elsewhere in Asia into prostitution and sexual slavery.
Now, the Seoul Metropolitan Government and the Seoul National University Human Rights Center has released footage, the first of its kind, that reveals the horror and heartbreak of these abuses like never before.
The footage depicts Chinese and American troops liberating Korean sex slaves from one of the Japanese “comfort stations” (military brothels) in Songshan, Yunnan Province, China in 1944. One of the women is clearly pregnant from the rape she endured.
“Their appearance, such as the bare feet, suggest they were enslaved,” confirms SungKongHoe University professor Kang Sung-hyun, who participated in a study of the footage, according to The Korea Herald. Indeed, researchers claim that this footage corroborates existing documentary evidence demonstrating the Imperial Japanese Army’s practice of taking sex slaves.
Existing evidence shows that Japanese exploitation of Korean women, in fact, began well before the war even began. Following the Japanese colonization of Korea 30 years prior, during the Russo-Japanese War, Japan had begun capturing Korean nationals and sending them back home as forced labor. Then, during World War II, the Japanese significantly ramped up their exploitation of the Korean people to account for the greater needs of wartime.
Japan thus reached the point at which they began using Korean women as sex slaves for their troops. Initially, when the program began in 1932, it was made up of women who were already prostitutes and had volunteered. Many of these early volunteers were Japanese, as prostitution was then open and legal in Japan.
However, as the war progressed and the Japanese army grew and spread out, it no longer became possible for them to rely on voluntary Japanese prostitution. Instead, they began finding women from their colonial territories that they could force into sexual slavery. They would trick women with job offerings such as for factory workers or nurses, and then coerce or force them into prostitution. They called these women they forced into prostitution “comfort women,” the literal translation of the Japanese euphemism for a prostitute: “ianfu.”
Of the several hundred thousand women forced into servitude, many came from Korea, as it was one of Japan’s largest colonies, though there were also “comfort women” from Burma, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan, China, and even the Netherlands. Many of these women were beaten and raped on a daily basis for the entirety of their confinement.
The Japanese government has made some efforts to apologize for these actions since the end of World War II, including the issuance of both a formal apology to Korea and reparations to the victims.
However, many right-wing Japanese politicians continue to deny or minimize the suffering of “comfort women.” This includes the current administration in Japan, which has frequently worked to minimize or erase the history of Japanese war crimes during World War II.
This newly released footage, however, provides clear evidence of these crimes and the suffering experienced by the victims.
Next, discover more about the war crimes committed by the Japanese Army during World War II. Then, read up on sexual slavery today and see how ISIS burned women alive for refusing to be sex slaves.