Experiences of Korean Sex Slavery in the Japanese Comfort Women System during World War II

Saturday, January 17, 2015: 10:55 AM
La Galeries 4, Second Floor (New Orleans Marriott)
* noted as presenting author
Jee Hoon Park, MSW, MTh, PhD Student, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Michelle Hand, MSW, LSW, PhD student, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Keith A. Anderson, MSW, PhD, Associate Professor, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
Background and Purpose:  During the Asian and Pacific War (1937-1945), the Japanese military forced approximately 200,000 women into sex slavery.  Known as “the comfort women” system, most of these women were abducted from Korea.  Key components of this system involved forced sex slavery, suffering within military brothels, and continued suffering after returning home (Min, 2003). While researchers have begun to explore this topic, we know little about the experiences of the comfort women from a life course perspective (Soh, 2006; Durham & Loft, 2001).  Consequently, this study sought to explore the lived experiences of the former comfort women, to understand their hidden needs, and to identify potential interventions to help this underserved group.

Methods:  Currently, there are 59 known Korean survivors of the Japanese comfort women system living in South Korea.  Working with an organization that supports these survivors,  snow ball sampling was used to recruit 22 survivors (N = 22). Participants  completed semi-structured qualitative interviews. Interviews were transcribed verbatim and analyzed in Korean.  A phenomenological approach and open coding were used to identify common themes from their stories.

Findings:  Based on preliminary findings, four emergent themes have been identified.  Memories of being abducted and forced into sex slavery in childhood and adolescence emerged as a primary theme.  Over 70% of the survivors (n=16) reported being teenagers when entering the comfort women system.  Second, changed and broken lives emerged as participants described returning to broken families, disrupted social networks, troubled marriages, and stigmatization.  Third, participants discussed another generation of hidden victims as the children of these comfort women experienced reverberations of the trauma.  Finally, participants shared experiences of disregarded and forgotten needs as they continue to lack recognition and necessary services as they age. Participants attributed much of this unmet need to a lack of support in Korea and abroad due to political conflicts with Japan.  The Japanese government has yet to officially recognize the existence of the comfort women system and has never made restitution to these women for the injustices that they endured.

Conclusion and Implications: The results provide an in-depth understanding of the needs and lived experiences of the survivors of this system.  These results add to our understanding of the intersection of trauma and aging.  These results can also help to inform the development of programs to better address the identified needs of these survivors.  For social workers, these findings direct us to fill our dual role of serving clients and addressing injustice.