Psychiatry Investig.  2018 Apr;15(4):336-343. 10.30773/pi.2017.11.08.2.

Psychiatric Sequelae of Former “Comfort Women,” Survivors of the Japanese Military Sexual Slavery during World War II

Affiliations
  • 1Department of Psychiatry, Soonchunhyang University Bucheon Hospital, Bucheon, Republic of Korea. irenelee@schmc.ac.kr
  • 2Department of Psychiatry, Jeju National University, Jeju, Republic of Korea.
  • 3Mentor Clinic, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
  • 4Maumtodac Clinic, Ansan, Republic of Korea.
  • 5Department of Psychiatry, Incheon St. Mary's Hospital, Incheon, Republic of Korea.
  • 6Department of Psychiatry, Ajou University, Suwon, Republic of Korea.
  • 7Department of Psychiatry, Seoul Metropolitan Enpyeong Hospital, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
  • 8Department of Psychiatry, National Medical Center, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
  • 9Department of Psychiatry, Seoul National University, Seoul, Republic of Korea.
  • 10Korean Women's Development Institute, Seoul, Republic of Korea.

Abstract

“Comfort women” refers to young women and girls who were forced into sexual slavery by the Imperial Japanese military during World War II. They were abducted from their homes in countries under Imperial Japanese rule, mostly from Korea, and the rest from China, Philippines, Malaysia, Taiwan, Indonesia, the Netherlands, etc. “Comfort women” endured extreme trauma involving rape, sexual torture, physical abuse, starvation, threats of death, and witnessed many others being tortured and killed. This article reviews all the studies that have investigated the psychiatric or psychosocial sequelae of the survivors of the Japanese military sexual slavery. Most importantly, a recent study which conducted a psychiatric evaluation on the former “comfort women” currently alive in South Korea is introduced. The participants’ unmarried rate was relatively high and their total fertility rate was relatively low. Majority of the participants reported having no education and being the low economic status. They showed high current and lifetime prevalence of posttraumatic disorder, major depressive disorder, somatic symptom disorder, social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, and alcohol use disorder. Participants showed high suicidality and majority of the participants still reported being ashamed of being former “comfort women” after all these years. This article high-lights the fact that the trauma has affected the mental health and social functioning of former “comfort women” throughout their lives, and even to the present day.

Keyword

Comfort women; Japanese military sexual slavery; Psychiatric sequelae; Posttraumatic stress disorder
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