From the early 1930s to the end of the Second World War, hundreds of thousands of women were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military. More than 200,000 Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Malaysian and women of other nationalities, euphemistically referred to as “comfort women”, were enslaved by the Japanese Imperial Military in occupied territories. It is one of the biggest cases of human trafficking in the 20th century and more than 70 years later, the tragedy is still provoking international tensions.
The first “comfort station” was believed to have been established in in the Japanese concession in Shanghai in 1932. Some women responded to calls for work in factories or hospitals, unaware they were being trafficked into sexual slavery, while others were sold by desperate parents living in poverty. Some women, as testimonies revealed decades later, were abducted from their homes.
The majority of women were below the age of 20, with some as young as 12. The enslaved were Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Filipino, Malaysian, Indonesian, Dutch, East Timorese and Japanese. According to Amnesty International, former members of the military also said victims were from Thailand, Burma, Vietnam and even the United States. The brothels were found across Asia, from China and Taiwan to Borneo, the Philippines, Malaysia, Singapore and the Pacific Islands.