Rape During The War: Comfort Women In Japanese Army

During the Second World War, rape and sexual slavery spread throughout Europe and Asia. This phenomenon finds its climax in China, where the Japanese army planned the construction of a colossal underground military prostitution system. Comfort women is a euphemism that masks the violence inflicted on about 200,000 women, mostly Koreans, but also Chinese, Taiwanese, Filipino, Indonesian and Thai, by the Japanese army. Not so much comfort it is, but of real sexual slavery. The Japanese government, engaged in the conquest of China, thought at the time to create a network of military brothels — the comfort stations — in order to curb the problem of rape against the civilian population of the occupied territories, which caused not only a loss of image, precious for a country that had as its aim the control of all of East Asia, but also an annoying increase in venereal diseases among the soldiers. The comfort stations were managed directly by the Japanese army or by private individuals, but always under the supervision of the Army of the Rising Sun. The comfort women, usually teenage girls, taken from the age of fifteen and up, were recruited from the poorest people, often with deception and the promise of a well-paid job. At other times they were simply kidnapped, taken away while they were walking down the street, or it was their own family who decided to sell them for little money. After long journeys by train or by boat, the girls reached their destination, the comfort station, often at the front, near the war line, where they were forced to have sexual relations with the Japanese soldiers: simple soldiers in the morning, graduated in the afternoon and officers in the evening.

At the end of the war, abandoned by the Japanese army fleeing inside the comfort stations, without money or food, comfort women often found themselves without the possibility of returning home. Many of them remained where they were, mostly in China, and survived by continuing to prostitute themselves or, if lucky, by marrying local men.

Some, few, have managed to return, on foot or by means of luck. Others have committed suicide for shame, a shame that eventually prevailed over everything, covering up for years a tragedy that no one, not even the direct protagonists, wanted to remember.8 Their story begun to be told only since 1977, when one of these women, Pong-ki Pe, of Korean origin but residing in Japan, had the courage to come out into the open and make her own story known. In South Korea, in fact, the state that has counted the highest number of victims, the case of comfort women has remained silent for a long time, thanks to the various dictatorial regimes that succeeded until 1988 and the need to obtain funding for the development from the Japanese neighbor. It has become a matter of national importance only since 1990, thanks to the work and articles written by Jung-ok Yoon, professor at the Ewha Woman University in Seoul and representative of the Korean Council for the Women Deafed for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, in addition to meeting Pong-ki Pe, she collected material and testimonies not only in Korea and Japan, but also in Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia.

Today in South Korea these women, those who remain and are now over the age of eighty, are struggling to get official apologies from the Japanese government that still denies the direct involvement in the establishment and management of brothels. They do this by demonstrating every Wednesday, since January 8, 1992, in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul and bringing their testimony everywhere.

03 December 2019
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