Japan Pays for Its Sex Slaves

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They were known as “ianfu,” or comfort women. Taken by force from their villages in Korea, China and Indonesia, these teenage girls were sent to “comfort stations,” where they would be raped 20 to 30 times a day by Japanese soldiers. Now, more than 50 years later, a small band of the estimated 200,000 comfort women have won a landmark legal victory against the Japanese government. A district court took the surprising step of condemning official policy and telling Tokyo to pay up. Judge Hideaki Chikashita called their suffering “a fundamental violation of human rights” -- which, if anything, is an understatement.

That’s the good news. Here’s the downside: Japan will not have to apologize, which is what the women -- and neighboring governments -- really want. And the amount of the settlment, at 300,000 yen ($2,272) per plaintiff, is almost insultingly small. But the ianfu, whose very existence was only recognized in 1992, have learned to live with small victories. With five more lawsuits waiting in the wings, some sort of closure for this dark episode in history may not be far away.