One of the most horrific crimes of the World War II period has remained relatively unknown to most Americans, as well as to most people in many other parts of the world, even though more than 63 years have elapsed since the end of World War II. This is the crime of sex slaves, or euphemistically called “comfort women” by the Japanese government. During the WWII period, approximately 400,000 women and young girls (most between the ages of 14 and 18) from China, Korea, Philippines, Netherlands, and other countries (with about 50% being Chinese) were forced to become sex slaves to the Japanese soldiers occupying Korea, China, Burma, Philippines, and other parts of Asia.
Most of these women and girls were kidnapped from their families and shipped to all over the Japanese empire to become sex slaves, and many died or were never united with their families again. Sometimes, these women and girls were tricked to become sex slaves when they thought they were being recruited for other jobs. As sex slaves, they were raped on a daily basis by as many as a dozen or more Japanese soldiers, while being poorly fed and living in extremely harsh conditions. In addition, sometimes they also had to perform other menial tasks during other parts of the day, all without compensation.
How terrifying were their experiences can be seen from the following remarks by Kim Koon-ja of Korea when she recalled her days as a Japanese sex slave and said that her ordeal was “so painful I tried to kill myself. I choked myself, but got caught and was so badly beaten that it was worse than death itself. There wasn’t a day that passed without tears. My last wish is for the Japanese people to apologize and make compensations.”
Unfortunately to this day, the Japanese government still has not formally and officially acknowledged these atrocities and has not apologized to the victims. On the contrary, on many occasions various top-level Japanese leaders (including their prime minister), have tried to discredit the claims of the victims and eyewitnesses by making remarks such as that sex slaves were invented by people who want to criticize Japan or that these women were willingly hired by private contractors as prostitutes and were paid handsomely for their services. This is in spite of the fact that documents have been discovered within Japan’s Defense Agency (now called the Ministry of Defense) proving that state officials were directly involved in setting up sex slaves. The Japanese government has tried to rewrite history related to sex slaves, as well as other atrocities, such as the Nanking Massacre, committed by the Japanese army during WWII (See http://dontow.com/wordpress/2007/04/nanking-massacre-reporting-an-eyewitness-account/ for an eyewitness account of the Nanking Massacre.). Most Japanese youths today don’t know anything about sex slaves, the Nanking Massacre, or other atrocities committed by their country during WWII because the history textbooks they used in their schools have been revised with respect to that part of history. The Japanese government’s actions (or inactions) are in sharp contrast to those of the German government who has officially apologized and provided reparation for those who were persecuted by the German government during WWII.
Because of the social stigma in Asian countries associated with sex slaves, even though they were forced to do so and were not even compensated, these former sex slaves for many years basically kept their experiences to themselves. As a matter of fact, they were often looked down upon even by their own families, thus compounding their sufferings. However, with the passage of time, rising feminism and gender equality, and changing social attitudes, some of these women began to speak out and even participated in public demonstrations. These demonstrations began in Korea in 1992, and since July 1994 have become a weekly Wednesday event in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, Korea. In spite of their advancing age, many former sex slaves participate in these demonstrations demanding an official apology and reparation from the Japanese government. Currently only a few hundred of these former sex slaves are still alive, and in a few more years they may no longer exist.
It is important to point out that there are brave and courageous Japanese people who have stood up and criticized their government for their handling of issues related to the atrocities committed by the Japanese government during WWII. Japanese organizations have been set up whose purpose is to right the injustices perpetuated by the Japanese government during and after WWII. One such organization is the “Women’s Active Museum on War and Peace” (WAM) established in 2005 to be the repository of records and materials related to the so-called “comfort women” issue that were collected by the Women’s International War Crimes Tribunal on Japan’s Military Sexual Slavery that was held in 2000. Another such organization is the “Center for Research and Documentation on Japan’s War Responsibility” (JWRC) that was established in 1993 dedicated to fulfilling Japan’s responsibility to Asians victimized by Japan during WWII. Furthermore, many Japanese lawyers and eyewitnesses have provided help to the Chinese victims of the Nanking Massacre who had filed lawsuits against the Japanese government.
It is heartening to see that a little more than a year ago the governments of several countries have passed resolutions condemning the actions of the Japanese military associated with sex slaves and called on the Japanese government to officially acknowledge, apologize, and accept historical responsibility for these actions. These governments include the U.S., Canada, Netherlands, and the European Parliament. For more details about these resolutions, read the article “Reflections on Atrocities in Asia During WWII.”
In spite of such political pressures being applied to Japan, the Japanese government still has not responded positively to these pressures. Maybe we should take a cue from some of the signs shown during the weekly demonstrations in Korea urging people to boycott Japanese products until the Japanese government acknowledges and apologizes for the atrocities the Japanese military committed during WWII. Perhaps if enough people around the world boycott buying Japanese products, such as Japanese cars, the combination of economic pressures and political pressures may persuade the Japanese government to change their position.
Additional information on the sex slaves issue of WWII can also be found in the CBS video “Open Wounds,” CBS Sunday Morning News, 3/18/07: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-YMUjvtt7Gg.
On Monday, 4/27/09, 7:30-9:30 PM at the Student Life Center, there will be a program at Brookdale Community College (BCC) in Lincroft, NJ on “Violence Against Women: Sex Slaves in Asia during WWII.” The program is sponsored by BCC’s “Holocaust, Genocide and Human Rights Education Center,” BCC’s “Center for WWII Studies & Conflict Resolution,” and the “New Jersey Alliance for Learning & Preserving the History of WWII in Asia.”
The speakers will be Rosemarie Wilkinson, Adjunct Professor at Kean University and Social Studies Teacher at Raritan High School in Hazlet, and Frances Flannery, Social Studies and English Teacher at South Plainfield High School in South Plainfield. They will speak on “Sex Slaves – Almost Forgotten History of WWII.” Two short videos on sex slaves, one historical and one recent, will also be shown.
Admission is free to BCC students and staff and members of the three sponsoring organizations, $5 for other students, and $10 for others.
 In this article, the WWII period refers to the extended period of 1931-1945, the years bracketing the Japanese invasion of Manchuria, the Sino-Japanese War, and World War II.
 These are the most recent estimates based on more than 15 years of investigation by the world’s foremost expert on the comfort women issue, Professor Zhi Liang Su (and his team), who is the Director of the Comfort Women Research Institute at the Shanghai Normal University in Shanghai, China. Earlier corresponding numbers from the United Nations were 200,000 comfort women, with the majority being Koreans. Professor Su is currently working on having the more recent estimates to be adopted by the U.N.