A North Korean defector has spoken out this week to reveal that female soldiers in the communist regime are often raped, and some are forced to reuse sanitary pads while many stop menstruating altogether because of the tough conditions suffered during their army duty.

Fox News reported that Lee So Yeon, who defected to South Korea through China, is opening up about the ten years she spent in the North Korean army, a period which began when she was 17. While serving in the army between 1992 and 2001, Lee said that though she was never raped herself, but many of her comrades suffered sexual abuse.

“The company commander would stay in his room at the unit after hours and rape the female soldiers under his command. This would happen over and over without an end,” Lee explained. She added that though she “enjoyed her life in the army,” the rigorous training schedules and lack of food were hard on women’s bodies.

“After six months to a year of service, we wouldn’t menstruate anymore because of malnutrition and the stressful environment,” she told the BBC. “The female soldiers were saying that they are glad that they are not having periods. They were saying that they were glad because the situation is so bad if they were having periods too that would have been worse.”

Lee remembered being engulfed in the odor from her own sweat because her army bunk was made of rice hull.

“As a woman, one of the toughest things is that we can’t shower properly,” she said, going on to say that there wasn’t hot water and frogs and snakes ran through the shower hose — which came from a mountain stream.

She also said that female soldiers were forced to reuse sanitary pads. Juliette Morillot, author of “North Korea in 100 Question,” explained that women still used “traditional white cotton pads” that had to be washed when men weren’t around. When she visited North Korea, Morillot said she was told women missed their period for years while in the army.

“One of the girls I spoke with, who was 20, told me she trained so much that she had skipped her periods for two years,” Morillot said.

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