78 years after the last bomb was dropped, one of the few lingering reminders of the horrors and atrocities that occurred during World War 2 is Korean Comfort Women. “Korean Comfort Women”, a term coined for the estimated 20,000 to 200,000 woman and girls predominantly from Korea, that were trafficked and forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military during World War 2. The woman and girls were often brutalized as they serviced dozens of Japanese soldiers on a daily basis in military brothels known as “comfort houses” throughout Japanese controlled territory in the South Pacific and East Asia during the war. Many of the woman were abducted, while others living in war-ravaged conditions were manipulated with promises of jobs or food.
Many Comfort Women were either killed or died from disease during World War 2. Of those that managed to survive the war, many were left with permanent mental and physical injuries due to their harsh treatment in captivity. For decades, the Comfort Women struggled for recognition and medical assistance, as the governments of South Korea and Japan appeared unwilling to acknowledge they even existed.
Over the years, as more and more Comfort Women came forward to share their stories, they began to gain public support and sympathy both in Korea, as well as in the international community. In 1992, the House of Sharing was constructed in the South Korean countryside, serving as both a museum to commemorate the Comfort Women, as well as a rehabilitation center for the survivors. Today the center also functions as a retirement home for the 37 remaining survivors. In 2011 the Statue of Peace, a bronze memorial depicting a young Korean Comfort Woman was erected in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul.
In December of 2015, the governments of South Korea and Japan reached a landmark agreement aimed at officially settling the decades-long dispute regarding Comfort Women. As part of the agreement, the Japanese government formally took responsibility for their role in the human-trafficking and forced labor and sexual slavery bestowed upon thousands of Korean citizens. As part of the settlement, the Japanese government also set up a 1 billion yen ($8.3 million dollars) fund to support the surviving Comfort Women. In exchange, the Korean government agreed to refrain from publicly criticizing Japan regarding the topic of Comfort Women, as well as working to remove a statue erected in front of the Japanese Embassy in Seoul commemorating Comfort Women.
In the years following the 2015 agreement, outside factions have sought to politicize the narrative of the Comfort Women and capitalize on their positive public sentiment to serve their own agenda. Domestically, the 37 surviving Comfort Women have evolved into Korean patriotic icons and have at times been used by right-wing nationalist groups as political pawns in seemingly unrelated issues like domestic partisan disagreements, as well as a land dispute with Japan over a chain contested of border-islands. Internationally, more than 20 statues, similar to the original Statue of Peace in Seoul, have been erected worldwide, evidence of recognition and empathy Comfort Women now garner worldwide. Nonetheless, outside groups in the region like the pro-China, Defend The Diaoyutai in Hong Kong have used the statues and symbolism of the Comfort Women as simply a means in which to promote their own interests in an separate Chinese territorial island dispute with Japan.
The South Korean Comfort Women of Korea have endeared themselves to the world by enduring unimaginable tragedy and suffering during World War 2. Their strength, perseverance, and courage both during and after the war is truly an inspiration. With more memorials, popping up around the globe these unsung women will never be forgotten again.