In 2019, researchers identified yet another five survivors of sexual slavery within Japanese troops during World War II that are still alive. This has raised the total number of survivors in China to 18. Women that were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese Army during World War II were called “comfort women”. There were an estimated 40,000 comfort women during this time, and around 90 percent of them didn’t survive the war. The stories of these so-called “comfort women” are so important, and because of Japan’s lack of responsibility for these events, some of the only information we can get is from the few women left that have survived it.
The oldest victim recently discovered is Liu Nianzhen, 102. She was born in 1918, and abused by the Japanese army during the war. Because of this abuse, Liu became infertile. She has also suffered severe psychological trauma, and refuses to let anyone touch her. Today, women like Liu are still fighting to gain recognition for the horrible things they have gone through.
Another survivor, Liu Mianhuan tells her story of being kidnapped by the military in a book of primary sources called Chinese Comfort Women: Testimonies from Imperial Japan’s sex slaves, written by Peipei Qui. She says, “The soldiers drove all the villagers to the meeting place where there were haystacks and, after forcing everyone to squat down, they began to pick out girls from the crowd. I wanted to die but that would have saddened my parents, so I told myself not to die but to endure.” These Japanese soldiers would pick women at random from villages, take them, and then brutally rape and torture them, indefinitely. “It was not a place for humans.” Lee Ok-seon told Deutsche Welle in 2013. These women experienced rapes that would increase in roughness and number before battles, horrible living conditions, STDs, physical abuse, and pregnancies. Most of these women claim that the only hope keeping them alive during this time was that they’d possibly see their loved ones again.
Lee Ok-seon, 14 at the time of her kidnapping, was running an errand for her parents when it happened to her. She was taken to a “comfort station”, which is basically a brothel that serviced the Japanese military, and from there she was forced into sexual slavery for over 13 years.
Though these brothels had existed before, Japan’s military expanded them in attempts to take over the Republic of China and parts of Asia. December 13, 1937, was the start of a six week long massacre throughout the Chinese city of Nanking. They called it The Rape of Nanking. Through this massacre, Japanese troops raped somewhere between 20,000 and 80,000 Chinese women. Though these women never got the justice they deserve, the powerful Emperor of the time, Emperor Hirohito, decided it would be best to build more of these “comfort stations” in order to prevent atrocities like the Rape of Nanking, and satisfy Japanese troops’ sexual appetites.
One of the most important (things)/aspects about this era is Japan’s failure to recognize and take responsibility for these atrocities. For decades, Japanese officials had insisted that these “comfort stations” never existed. Once women began telling their stories, more and more began coming forward. Japan’s government finally gave slight acknowledgement in 1993, but South Korea was still asking for a stronger apology. With their mere offer of reparations to comfort women in 2015 when only dozens remained, Japan condemned South Korea’s requests proving that these issues are just as important today as they were during the war. “I never wanted to give comfort to those men,” said Lee “but I can never forgive what happened to me.”