What is Japanese Military Sexual Slavery System

The Japanese Military Sexual Slavery system refers to crimes that the Japanese military committed from 1930s to 1945, when Japan was defeated. During that period, the Japanese military systematically set up ‘military comfort stations’ by recruiting women from colonized and occupied countries and forcing them to serve as sex slaves.

During the Shanghai Incident in 1932, rape by Japanese soldiers got more and more frequent, and this led to an extreme anti-Japanese sentiment in occupied regions. Also, Japanese soldiers started to get venereal infection, which interfered with progress of war. As a result, ‘military comfort station’ system was established, and women from colonized and occupied regions were drafted against their will. According to the reports on the victims registered with the Korean government, the age of victims ranged from 11 to 27. Most of them were drafted by abduction and job fraud.

Inside a 'comfort station'
Inside a ‘comfort station’

The ‘military comfort stations’ differed in their establishment, management, and recruitment of the ‘comfort women’ based on the time period, location, and whether they were run by the military itself or a commissioned private agent. However, all of them were subject to complete protection, supervision, and restriction by the Japanese military. At each ‘comfort station’, the hours of use depended on ranks, fees, medical checkups or STIs and other sanitary precautions were displayed. During the peak time, 20 to 30 soldiers waited in line outside the door, according to the testimonies of the former Japanese soldiers.

For the safety of Japanese soldiers, ‘comfort women’ had to receive medical checkups for STIs regularly and were brutally raped even when they were having periods, pregnant, or sick. The women could not leave the ‘comfort stations’ on their own will, and even the most basic living and moving conditions were under restrictions. There are also records found that refer to ‘comfort women’ as “gifts from the Emperor” and “sanitary public bathroom”.

North Korean victim Park Young-sim, who was abducted and suffered from sexual slavery, was found in Burma in September 1944
North Korean victim Park Young-sim, who was abducted and suffered from sexual slavery, was found in Burma in September 1944

After Japan was defeated in 1945, ‘comfort women’ were abandoned in the countries they were taken to, dead by bombings, or killed by the Japanese military. Survivors struggled with finding a way back home, or had to give up going back home. The wounds and trauma from beatings, torture, and sexual violence in the ‘comfort stations’ left the victims in pain, unable to give birth or have a family of their own. Furthermore, they were kept silent due to psychological trauma and ignorance and discrimination of the public.

Professor Youn Chung-ok presented the issue of Japanese military sexual slavery to the public during Women and Sex Tourism Seminar in 1988. Afterwards, feminist organizations joined in solidarity to establish the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan on November 16th, 1990. However, the Japanese government denied its involvement with the issue. On August 14th, 1991, Kim Hak-soon made the first press interview in Korea to make a public testimony that she was a survivor. Her courageous testimony gave hope for other survivors who had been silent to come out to the world.

Kim Hak-soon making the first public testimony as the Japanese military sexual slavery survivor on August 14th, 1991
Kim Hak-soon making the first public testimony as the Japanese military sexual slavery survivor on August 14th, 1991

Kim Hak-soon’s testimony became an important turning point for the resolution of the issue of Japanese military sexual slavery, both in Korea and in the international community. Survivors who were disconnected from neighbors and family and unable to speak of the fact that they were victimized, started to connect with other women and citizens to reveal the crimes of the Japanese government. Survivors transformed into women’s rights and peace activists who demanded the restoration of their dignity and human rights, and the achievement of a peaceful world where no more person is victimized.