WASHINGTON - Fifteen former "comfort women" from Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and China filed a class-action lawsuit in federal court here yesterday against Japan, the first time allegations of sexual slavery stemming from wartime activities have been leveled against Japan in U.S. courts.
Two of the 15 plaintiffs told about their experiences at a news conference announcing the lawsuit.
Geum Joo Hwang said she was only 19 when she was told that Japanese emperor Hirohito had ordered all unmarried Korean girls to work in Japanese military factories. Instead, she said, she was raped andsent to a "comfort station" where she and other women had to service Japanese soldiers and officers. Hwang said she escaped five years later when the Japanese abandoned their barracks.
Speaking through a translator, Hwang, now 79, said the plaintiffs want the Japanese government to apologize and compensate them for the pain and suffering endured by all the women forced into such slavery. They are seeking unspecified compensation beyond the $20,000 Japan has already offered to one-time "comfort women."
According to the lawsuit, Japan instituted a massive sexual slavery program between 1931 and 1945. Recruiting Asian women who believed they were being enlisted as factory workers or nurses, Japan shipped the women to various "comfort stations" across its Southeast Asian empire. More than 200,000 women and girls are estimated to have been forced into sexual slavery. Most of the girls were teen-agers or young adults at the time.
A statement from the Japanese Embassy noted that in 1993 the Japanese government apologized and expressed its "remorse, recognizing that this issue was ... a grave affront to the honor and dignity of large number(s) of women."
The Japanese government also established the Asian Women's Fund in 1995. The fund attempts to contact the one-time "comfort women" and offers them $20,000 and a letter from the Japanese prime minister. The letter includes an apology.
The class-action suit is on behalf of not only the 15 individuals but all the women who were "comfort women" between 1931 and 1945, as well as their heirs.