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Human slavery

Part 1 of 4: Allegations of Japanese sex
slavery before & during World War II.
Different perspectives
on responsibility.


bullet "I was playing jump-rope in front of my house when an automobile pulled over. I had never seen a car before in my village. When the driver offered me a ride, I, curious and naive, climbed in with my friend. Immediately, that car rolled on with us in it and then kept on going and going, never returning me to my village...." Ms. Kim Yoon Shim, a former "comfort woman," about her abduction at the age of 14." 1
bullet "Those who don't remember the past are condemned to repeat it." George Santayana.


Any imbalance in power makes physical and sexual assault more probable. This is particularly true in the widespread incidences of rape during wartime.

Most of the atrocities committed by Japanese troops during World War II were prosecuted at the 1946 Tokyo war-crimes trials. However, one type of crime was not mentioned, apparently because the victims were women and non-Japanese.

It is widely believed that female sex slaves were forced to deliver sexual services to Japanese soldiers, both before and during World War II. Estimates of their number range from 100,000 to as high as 400,000. They have been variously called "comfort women," "military sex slaves," "MSS," "military comfort women," and -- in Japanese -- "jugun ianfu." This program was allegedly approved by the Imperial Conference, which was composed of the emperor, representatives from the armed forces, and the main Cabinet ministers. The conference was formed after Japan invaded Manchuria in 1937.

One source suggests that the Japanese government organized the comfort stations for a number of reasons:

  • To increase the morale of the troops.

  • To prevent their soldiers from raping women in the territories that they controlled.

  • To more efficiently prevent the spread of STI's.

  • To prevent leakage of military secrets.

A book reviewer for stated:

"This system resulted in the largest, most methodical and most deadly mass rape of women in recorded history. Japan's Kem pei tai political police and their collaborators tricked or abducted females as young as eleven years old and imprisoned them in military rape camps known as 'comfort stations,' situated throughout Asia. These 'comfort women' were forced to service as many as fifty Japanese soldiers a day. They were often beaten, starved, and made to endure abortions or injections with sterilizing drugs. Only a few of the women survived, and those that did suffered permanent physical and emotional damage." 2

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In terms of the actual numbers of rapes, the reviewer is probably correct. This alleged atrocity by the Japanese government probably represents the largest organized mass rape in recorded history. Rapes probably numbered in excess of ten million. However, in terms of the numbers of women raped, there was at least one other wartime event which involved more women: the rape of German, Polish and even Russian women by Russian soldiers during the final months of World War II in Europe. Hopefully, the new permanent International Criminal Court will give future women victims an opportunity to initiate lawsuits against their attackers and obtain justice.

Many comfort women are believed to have died without being repatriated. According to the Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues:

"They were simply discarded when they got too sick to be of any use. During the last months of WWII, most Comfort Women were murdered or left to die by retreating Japanese troops." 1

As of 2016, most surviving comfort women would probably be in their 90's years of age. Only 46 Korean survivors are still alive as of early 216.They would probably all eventually die without hearing an official apology or receiving compensation for their ordeals, from the Government of Japan.

1932 to 1945: About the "comfort women:"

The first "comfort houses" were allegedly established approximately 1932-MAR during the battle of Shanghai. Following the second Sino-Japanese war of 1937, these houses were installed throughout occupied lands. It has been claimed that approximately 80 to 90% of the "comfort women" came from Korea which was occupied by the Japanese military at the time. 3 Others came from Taiwan, Indonesia, China, and other Asian countries. A small number were Dutch women from Dutch colonies that Japan had invaded.

After the war ended in 1945, many government and military documents were destroyed; others have been classified.

There were rumors circulating about this form of slavery after the war. However, it was not until 1991 that a South Korean woman, Grandma Kim Hak Soon, became the first person to speak publicly about the existence of comfort women. Her story has been backed up by other victim survivors who have come forward and as organizations have been founded to demand justice for these women.

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1945 to 1965: Involvement by Western governments:

According to the Japan Policy Research Institute:

"John W. Dower wrote in Embracing Defeat:

'When World War II ended in Asia, the consuming sentiments of the victorious Allies were hatred and hope; and the tangle of these emotions was nowhere more apparent than in the war-crimes trials the victors conducted" (p. 443).'

Nonetheless, among the approximately fifty military tribunals convened at various Asian locales between 1945 and 1951, only one tribunal, conducted by the Dutch in Batavia (today's Jakarta), meted out stern punishments (including one execution) to Japanese officers who forced Dutch women into sexual servitude. The Batavia trial thus recognized the "forced prostitution" (to use the Dutch government's terminology) of thirty-five Dutch women as a war crime. However, it ignored similar suffering by a much greater number of native women in Indonesia, not to mention female victims in other Asian countries. What, then, is the meaning of the Batavia trial for the comfort women issue? Obviously, it was the action of a victorious nation-state protecting the human rights and personal security of its nationals in a colonial setting as a matter of national interest. It underscores the common deprivation of human rights of people under colonial rule." 4

The Netherlands prosecuted some of the soldiers who had captured and exploited 35 Dutch women during World War II when the Japanese Army overran Dutch colonies in Asia. Those responsible were sentenced to prison. 5

The Korean Government ignored the sex-slavery issue in 1965 when it negotiated a treaty with Japan which settled other grievances due to war damage and colonialism.

Shortly after the war, the U.S. Government appears to have had knowledge of various Japanese war atrocities. They were aware that the Unit 731 biological warfare lab conducted experiments on human beings and "against entire populations and was responsible for anywhere from 3,000 to 200,000 deaths." 6 The unit's commanders were given amnesty in return for access to their research records. They also had knowledge of the "rape of Nanjing" in 1937, and the stories about comfort women. But they chose to largely ignore these war crimes. The International Military Tribunal for the Far East (IMTFE), (a.k.a. the Tokyo Tribunal) of 1946 primarily concerned itself with the charge of waging wars of aggression. Gross human rights violations were largely ignored. 7 In their defense, it is important to note that human rights in 1946 did not have the high profile that they do today.

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This topic continues in Part 2

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References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "News from Washington Coalition for Comfort Women Issues, Inc.," at:
  2. From an online book store editorial review.
  3. Dai Sil Kim Gibson, "What were comfort women?," at:
  4. C. Sarah Soh, "Japan's Responsibility Toward Comfort Women Survivors," Working Paper #77, Japan Policy Research Institute, 2001-MAY, at:
  5. K.C. Kang, "Japanese Government Knew About Sex Slaves, Researchers Say; WWII: System of 'comfort women' for soldiers was carried out by the regime, not just the military, conference is told." L.A. Times, at:
  6. Thomas Walkom, "Identifying evildoers a tough task," The Toronto Star, 2001-DEC-18, Page A25.
  7. Dai Sil Kim Gibson, "The Women's International War Crimes Tribunal on Military Sexual Slavery," at:

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Copyright 2001 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2001-DEC-4
Latest update: 2016-JAN-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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