As they drove away, she had no idea that she would never see her parents again. She was 14 years old. Lee Ok-seon, then 80, in a shelter for former sex slaves near Seoul, South Korea, holding an old photo of herself on April 15, On December 13, , Japanese troops began a six-week-long massacre that essentially destroyed the Chinese city of Nanking.
Along the way, Japanese troops raped between 20, and 80, Chinese women. As legal historian Carmen M. Women were rounded up on the streets of Japanese-occupied territories, convinced to travel to what they thought were nursing units or jobs, or purchased from their parents as indentured servants.
These women came from all over southeast Asia, but the majority were Korean or Chinese. Once they were at the brothels, the women were forced to have sex with their captors under brutal, inhumane conditions. Like other women, she was threatened and beaten by her captors. A group of women, who survived being forced into brothels set up by the Japanese military during World War II, protesting in front of the Japanese Embassy in , demanding an apology for their enslavement.
After the end of World War II, however, documents on the system were destroyed by Japanese officials, so the numbers are based on estimates by historians that rely on a variety of extant documents.
As Japan rebuilt after World War II, the story of its enslavement of women was downplayed as a distasteful remnant of a past people would rather forget. Meanwhile, women who had been forced into sexual slavery became societal outcasts. Many died of sexually transmitted infections or complications from their violent treatment at the hands of Japanese soldiers; others committed suicide.
Former comfort woman Yong Soo Lee next to a picture of comfort girls. In , after the Republic of South Korea became a liberal democracy, women started discussing their ordeals publicly.
In the years that followed, more and more women came forward to give testimony. Since then, however, the issue has remained divisive. Japan recently condemned that request—a reminder that the issue remains as much a matter of present foreign relations as past history. One of them is Yong Soo Lee, a year-old survivor who has been vocal about her desire to receive an apology from the Japanese government.