Japan Apologizes to WWII Sex Slaves

On this day in in 1993, Japan formally apologized—for the first time—to so-called comfort women, some 200,000 women forced to serve its soldiers as sex slaves during World War II.

Comfort women were young girls from a variety of Asian countries who were forcibly abducted and raped or else lured with promises of factory work, then coerced to serve the Japanese military as sex slaves. They included women from Korea, China, Japan, and the Philippines, as well as Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Taiwan, and Indonesia. Once abducted or recruited with false promises, the young women were incarcerated in “comfort stations” run by private agents, or by the Japanese Army itself, in foreign bases where Japanese soldiers were engaged in battle. There, they were forced to have sex with Japanese soldiers.

Historical military correspondence suggests the Japanese Army organised these comfort stations in part to prevent rape crimes by Japanese soldiers and to prevent the spread of venereal diseases in the army. Some historians suggest the comfort stations only exacerbated these points, however. The first comfort station was established in Shanghai in 1932 and staffed by Japanese prostitutes who volunteered for the work. After expanding the stations, however, the Japanese army found themselves with a shortage of personnel and began advertising jobs as factory workers or nurses for women who were then pressed into sexual slavery. From there, the recruitment grew more aggressive, including abductions, kidnapping, and rape of local civilians.

According to historical estimates, some 200,000 young women were pressed into sexual slavery in Japanese military brothels during World War II. Some three quarters of them died and most survivors were left infertile due to sexual trauma or sexually transmitted diseases. Others are physically and emotionally scarred from beatings and physical torture, a common abuse suffered by comfort women.

After its defeat, the Japanese military destroyed documents regarding the comfort stations fearing war crimes prosecution. It denied complicity in organising and running comfort stations for decades until 4 August 1993, when an investigation found the military accountable. Upon the publication of the study, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yohei Kono issued Japan’s first public apology to comfort women: “Undeniably, this was an act, with the involvement of the military authorities of the day, that severely injured the honour and dignity of many women. The Government of Japan would like to take this opportunity once again to extend its sincere apologies and remorse to all those, irrespective of place of origin, who suffered immeasurable pain and incurable physical and psychological wounds as comfort women.”