The term “comfort women” was used during WWII to refer to women who were conscripted to provide sexual service to the Japanese Imperial Army at comfort stations throughout Asia Pacific. Japanese, Korean, Chinese made up most of the comfort women, but they also included other Asians as well as the Dutch. Estimates of their total number vary greatly, ranging from under 20,000 to around 200,000.
Though known to many during or after the war, the comfort women issue bursted into international attention in 1991, when Kim Hak-soon of South Korea became the first former comfort woman to testify publicly. This event quickly led to an international movement that demanded the Japanese government to apologize and compensate for what it considered to be sexual slavery. In 1996, the U.N. Human Rights Commission issued a report on the matter, based largely on testimony from witnesses and victimized comfort women themselves. The report has been criticized by some historians in Japan who dismiss the relevant testimony as unreliable and insist that the comfort women were not forcibly recruited or abducted.
The Japanese government initially denied any involvement in setting up and operating “comfort stations” in Asia. In 1992, after Japanese historian Yoshimi Yoshiaki unearthed evidence in the official archives, and following its own inquiry, the Japanese government admitted involvement and offered an apology. Such admission and apology were renewed in 1993, after a more comprehensive study, by then chief cabinet secretary Kono Yohei in what became known as the Kono Statement. In 1995, the Asian Women’s Fund (AWF) was established in Japan, based on a decision by the Japanese government, to raise money from individuals to compensate former comfort women. The Japanese government provided part of the funds. As of June 2002, 285 women from several countries had accepted the compensation of around 4 million yen together with a letter from the Japanese Prime Minister. Some declined, however, on the ground that the money came from private individuals and not from the Japanese government. In addition, 79 women in Holland received medical and welfare assistance from the Japanese government. AWF was disbanded in 2007, after the completion of its project in Indonesia.
The comfort women issue is highly complex, emotionally charged, and far from being resolved. Below are presented both sides of the issue, including summaries of cases being filed by the former comfort women, and where available, official court documents. Otherwise, newspaper reports and scholarly works are relied on to gather the facts presented. As with all aspects of this website, any recent information or corrections concerning the data listed are welcome.
Asian Women’s Fund (digital museum)
Please click on the following for a list of relevant news articles and data sources: