Inside The Horrifying History Of Japanese War Crimes During World War II

Published April 12, 2023
Updated June 7, 2023

Sex Slavery

Japanese War Crimes Against Women

Pictures from History/Universal Images Group via Getty ImagesA group of “comfort women,” women and girls who were forced into prostitution by the Japanese during World War II.

As word of the Rape of Nanking spread, Japanese senior commanders grew concerned about the impact that it might have on Japan’s image. To discourage future mass rapes and to keep Japanese troops satisfied, they ordered the expansion of “comfort stations,” or military brothels.

HISTORY writes that women and girls across Japanese-occupied Asia — but mostly Chinese or Korean women and girls — were kidnapped, coerced, tricked, or sold into prostitution. Called “comfort women,” these enslaved victims were constantly raped by their captors and other soldiers.

“At first the other girls tried to protect me because I was so young,” Yong Soo Lee, a Korean victim who was kidnapped and forced into prostitution, told The Washington Post in 2015. “I saw the soldiers on them, but the girls put a blanket over me and told me to pretend I was dead so nothing would happen to me. I didn’t know what they meant. I was only 14.”

Comfort Women

Pictures from History/Universal Images Group via Getty ImagesVictims of sexual slavery, pictured with a male soldier.

Though many documents relating to comfort women were destroyed after World War II ended — and their legacy remains a contentious issue between Japan and other Asian countries that were formerly occupied by the Japanese — historians believe that as many as 400,000 women and girls were likely forced into prostitution during the conflict.

According to HISTORY, about 90 percent of these victims died before the war ended of suicide, murder, or disease. The few remaining survivors who are still alive today have never fully recovered from the trauma.

“I never wanted to give comfort to those men,” Lee said. “That name was made up by Japan. I was taken from my home as a child. My right to be happy, to marry, to have a family, it was all taken from me… I don’t want to hate or hold a grudge, but I can never forgive what happened to me.”

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