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Women and World War II: Comfort Women

Women as Sexual Slaves of the Japanese Military

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Moon Pil-Ki (R) and South Korean Women in Comfort Women Protest, 2002

Moon Pil-Ki (R) and other South Korean women protest at Japanese Embassy in 2002, demanding apology and compensation for their time they were forced to serve as comfort women for Japanese soldiers in World War II.

"Comfort Women Station" in Nanjing, China, Demolished in 2005

China Photos / Getty Images

During World War II, the Japanese established military brothels in countries they occupied. Women, many from occupied countries including Korea, China, and the Philippines, were forced to provide sexual services to personnel in the Japanese Imperial Army -- though the claims of how many were sexual slaves and how many were simply recruited as prostitutes is disputed. Estimates of the number of "comfort women" range from 80,000. Many of the surviving comfort women charge that they were forced to serve and were treated badly in the centers, often sustaining permanent health damage.

A number of former "comfort women" have filed lawsuits against the Japanese government, and have raised the issue with the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. The Japanese government, which initially claimed no military responsibility for the centers until papers were discovered in 1992 showing direct links, still maintain that recruitment tactics by "middlemen" were not the responsibility of the military, and have refused official apologies. Surviving comfort women have been offered unofficial apologies and financial awards but many have refused until the government of Japan takes full responsibility.

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