Korean Women Drafted For Sexual Service By Japan

Korea, annexed as a colony in 1910, suffered under oppressive Japanese rule until the end of World War II. During that time there were many acts of repression against the Korean people, no single example of which was more severe or massive than the forcible drafting of Korean women for sexual service to Japanese troops located throughout the Asia-Pacific area. The euphemistic term by which these women were known is translated into English as ‘comfort women’ (or girls).

It is only through recent efforts by Korean women, joined by women in Japan, that world attention has been focused on this gross violation human rights violation, suffered by Korean women (and women of some other Asian countries) from 1937 to 1945. The Korean Council for Women Drafted For Sexual Service By Japan (KCWDSSJ) was created and is continuing to uncover facts from previously hidden or unknown documents and through eyewitness statements. This has created a climate where elderly women survivors are gradually coming forward to tell their experiences, both privately and in the media. Cases have already been taken to the Japanese courts.

Shamed by what they have undergone, these women, many of whom bear almost unimaginable physical and psychological scars, are now starting to recount stories which testify to a history of rape and degradation. Between 100,000 to 200,000 Korean women were unwillingly taken from their families and country and forced to perform sexual services for Japanese soldiers. The Prime Minister of Japan, on a recent visit to Korea, publicly acknowledged what his government had until recently denied, and presented an apology, which was considered unsatisfactory by many.

Facts and figures are as yet difficult to obtain because of the years of invisibility and shame surrounding the tragedy. At the time many Koreans themselves were unaware of what was happening. Beginning with the Japanese invasion of China in 1937-38, Korean village girls, from 17 to 20 years of age and of poor families, were taken by the Japanese, and told that they would be given jobs in military restaurants or as maids. More indiscriminate kidnapping occurred later: Korean women, from 14 to 30 years of age (including married women if they had no baby) were sent throughout the Pacific, wherever the Japanese Army was located.

According to recent eyewitness testimonies (including those by Japanese prostitutes, former soldiers and former Army doctors), one ‘comfort woman’ was made to serve an average of 30-40 soldiers per day, who would wait in line outside her small room. In some regions the women were assigned Japanese first names, and later elsewhere they were identified only by a number. In the latter part of World War II, some Korean women were known to have serviced as many as 65 men daily. An Okinawan woman testified that she knew a Korean woman who was forced to have sexual relations with 100 Japanese soldiers in one day.

This large-scale sexual exploitation (considered by many as the rape of an entire nation) caused extreme suffering, including beatings and torture, widespread illnesses, abortions, death and massive abandonment of the worn-out women when the Japanese retreated. The emotional anguish at the lost of chastity, which in Korean society is considered almost more important than life, was a high price to.pay for being women living in a country ruled by another country.

According to the (KCWDSSJ) it is difficult to fully assess the scope of this violation against women and nearly impossible to obtain full statistics. However, an estimate of the number of Japanese troops and the average number which were served daily, according to witnesses, has enabled researchers to arrive at an approximate figure. Unfortunately, many military documents were destroyed by Japan, but some of the few that remain have come to light in the USA. It is estimated that in the months ahead more documentation and testimonies will corroborate the information verified thus far. From January 14 to 16 in Tokyo, a hotline installed to receive calls from Japanese people regarding the ‘comfort girl’ issue produced new detailed information which substantiated many claims. One example is the recent report that at least one former ‘comfort woman’ is living in a leper colony on Nagashima island.

Appealing to world organizations concerned for the maintenance of human rights, the following demands are made on behalf of all Korean women:

  1. That the Government of Japan and the Emperor recognize and take full responsibility for their violation of internationally-recognized standards of human rights in this issue, and make a full, strong and complete public apology to the individual victims, to Korea and to the women of other Asian nations likewise drafted into sexual service. Japan should make not only charitable gifts of money to the few women who have come forth, but in light of the many who have since died, should make country-by-country reparations as an acknowledgement of its crime against Korean women.
  2. The Government of Japan actively cooperate with the Korean Government and concerned international groups to pursue further studies in order to obtain as full information as possible on all aspects of the issue, and that the results be made public to the world community, with the goal of preventing any such future tragedy.
  3. That the Japanese Government encourage and assist its citizens who want to testify about this issue to do so without threat of reprisal.
  4. That the Japanese Government pay full and adequate compensation to all ‘comfort women’ survivors.
  5. That an appropriate monument be erected in Japan by the Japanese Government to honour and memorialize all ‘comfort women’ and to educate future generations about respect for the human rights of all people, including women and citizens of other countries.
  6. That the Japanese Government revise school textbooks to include reference to this issue as part of the colonial oppression against the Korean people.
  7. That the United Nations Commission on Human Rights thoroughly investigate this deliberate sexual subjugation of women toward the end of censuring Japan internationally both for its perpetration of a massive human rights violation and for its ongoing cover-up of all relevant facts.

by Heishoo Shin, Woman’s Hotline, #502-7, Chang Chundong, Sedaemun-gu, Seoul 120-180, Korea. Tel. 335 6955.

Veröffentlicht in WRI Women, Autumn 1992, No. 12