Carmen's experience as a comfort woman in Los Baños was not an uncommon one for southeast Asian women during World War II. The system of brothels began in 1932. In the early stages, volunteer Japanese prostitutes were used until Japan's military expansion made it difficult to get volunteers. At this point, the military turned to coercing women in areas of Japanese occupation to join the system. The majority of the women were taken from Korea or China. It was believed that the risk of a Japanese soldier running into a sister or friend in a comfort station would have devastating effects, so comfort women - at least during the war - were exclusively recruited from outside Japan.
Korean comfort women who survived and were protected in Lameng, Yunnan, September 3, 1945. From the US National Archives.
The comfort system was devised to prevent venereal diseases and rape while staving off discontent among the Japanese soldiers that might lead to rebellion or espionage. In reality, the system increased the cases of disease and massively increased the incidences of rape as most of the women were enslaved. Of the estimated 50,000 to 200,000 comfort women (depending on the source), only about 25% survived the harsh treatment, and many of the survivors were unable to have children due to the constant abuse and diseases. Accounts from these surviving comfort women are full of brutality, multiple daily rapes, and profound suffering.
Recompense and apology for the atrocities committed in the comfort stations have been slow in coming. As recently as 1990, the Japanese government denied any involvement in the system, arguing that the brothels were operated by private contractors. However, incriminating evidence discovered in the Japan's Defense Agency reveals their role in the system. As a result, a statement was issued in 1993 by the Japanese government saying that "The Japanese military was directly or indirectly involved in the establishment and management of the comfort stations and the transfer of the women." In 1995, the Asia Women's Fund was created by the Japanese government to provide compensation and a signed apology to the surviving comfort women. However, this fund is privately funded and many of the surviving comfort women have refused the money, preferring to wait for a more sincere apology from the Japanese government.
This article was originally published in November 2009, and has been updated for the
August 2010 paperback release.
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