Comfort women is the English term given to females who were forced into sexual slavery before and during the Second World War by the Imperialist Japanese Army. These women came from a range of occupied Asian countries including Korea, China, the Philippines, Thailand, Taiwan, and Malaysia as well as the Netherlands and Australia. The term is a translation of the Japanese word ianfu and the Korean term wianbu, both of which are euphemisms for "prostitute."
Comfort women serviced military workers at so-called "comfort stations" set up in China, Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, New Guinea, and other places where men served during the war. According to military records, these comfort stations were established to minimize the risk of Japanese army officers committing rape crimes in the areas they were stationed and limit the spread of venereal disease amongst the ranks. However, historians suggest that the comfort stations actually exacerbated these problems.
It is unclear exactly how many comfort women there were, although research suggest the number may be as low as 20,000 or as high as 410,000. The coercion of comfort women is one of the largest human trafficking operations on record. Many of these women were abducted from their homes, sold by poor parents, or lured into sex slavery after being promised positions in restaurants or factories. Most were younger than 20 years old, and some were as young as 12. Consequently, many comfort women had their first sexual experience during their enslavement. They were kept as prisoners for months or even years. Many were left infertile and suffered mental anguish as a result of their time in the comfort stations.
Following their enslavement, many comfort women did not wish to discuss what happened to them due to shame and fear of retaliation from the Japanese Army. However in the 1990s comfort women began to speak out. The comfort women are continuing to fight for justice and seek an apology from the Japanese government for the treatment they endured.