Comfort women or comfort girls were women and girls forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army in occupied countries and territories before and during World War II.
During World War II, Japanese troops forced hundreds of thousands of women from Korea, the Philippines, Vietnam, China, and other countries into brothels where they were sexually enslaved and repeatedly raped. Many women died or committed suicide due to brutal mistreatment and sustained physical and emotional distress.
After the war, Japan’s acknowledgment of the comfort women’s plight was minimal, lacking a full apology and appropriate restitution, which damaged Japan’s reputation in Asia for decades. Estimates vary as to how many women were involved, with most historians settling somewhere in the range of 50,000–200,000. Most of the women were from occupied countries, including Korea, China, and the Philippines. A significant percentage of comfort women were minors.
Originally, the brothels were established to provide soldiers with a sexual outlet in order to reduce the incidence of wartime rape, a cause of rising anti-Japanese sentiment across occupied territories. However, despite the goal of reducing rape and venereal disease, the comfort stations aggravated rape and increased the spread of venereal diseases.
Many women were coerced into working in the brothels. According to testimonies, some young women were abducted from their homes in countries under Imperial Japanese rule. Japanese women were the first victims to be enslaved in military brothels and trafficked across Japan, Okinawa, Japan’s colonies and occupied territories, and overseas battlegrounds. In many cases, local middlemen tasked with procuring women for the military deceived them with promises of work in factories or restaurants.
In some cases, propaganda advocated equity and the sponsorship of women in higher education. Other enticements were false advertising for nursing jobs at outposts or Japanese army bases; once recruited, they were incarcerated in comfort stations both inside their nations and abroad.
According to an account by a survivor, she was beaten when she attempted to resist being raped. The women who were not prostitutes prior to joining the "comfort women corps", especially those taken in by force, were normally "broken in" by being raped.
One Korean woman, Kim Hak-sun, stated in a 1991 interview about how she was drafted into the "comfort women corps" in 1941: "When I was 17 years old, the Japanese soldiers came along in a truck, beat us [her and a friend], and then dragged us into the back. I was told if I were drafted, I could earn lots of money in a textile factory … The first day I was raped and the rapes never stopped … I was born a woman but never lived as a woman … I feel sick when I come close to a man. Not just Japanese men, but all men-even my own husband who saved me from the brothel. I shiver whenever I see a Japanese flag … Why should I feel ashamed? I don’t have to feel ashamed." Kim stated that she was raped 30–40 times a day, every day of the year during her time as a "comfort woman".Reflecting their dehumanized status, Army and Navy records where referring to the movement of "comfort women" always used the term "units of war supplies".
In the Philippines according to the recounts of Filipino survivors Narcisa Claveria, who was enslaved for 18 months at the age of 13, during the day the women were forced to cook, clean, and do laundry. At night the Japanese soldiers raped and abused the women.
The story of the comfort women doing household chores during the day and being sexually abused at night was also recounted by another Filipino Survivor Fedencia David, who was kidnapped by Japanese soldiers at age 14, who also remembered being forced to wash clothes and cook for the Japanese soldiers. At night David was raped by as many as 5 to 10 Japanese soldiers. Along with being raped multiple times a day the women were subjected to separation from their families, often watching their families being murdered by Japanese soldiers. One survivor recounts that when the Japanese soldiers took her, "soldiers began to skin her father alive." This maltreatment left physical and emotional scars.
Suki Falconberg, a comfort women survivor, shared her experiences:
Serial penetration by many men is not a mild form of torture. Just the tears at the vaginal opening feel like fire applied to a cut. Your genitals swell and bruise. Damage to the womb and other internal organs can also be tremendous … [B]eing used as a public dumping ground by those men left me with deep shame that I still feel in the pit of my stomach – it’s like a hard, heavy, sick feeling that never entirely goes away. They saw not just my completely helpless, naked body, but they heard me beg, and cry. They reduced me to something low and disgusting that suffered miserably in front of them … Even years later, it has taken tremendous courage for me to put these words on the page, so deep is the cultural shame …