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Editor's note: This story contains graphic descriptions of sexual and physical violence. Narcisa Claveria will turn 89 this year, two days before Christmas. Stepping onto the veranda of the family apartment, she takes a moment to check on her year-old husband, who eyes visitors with a weary look. The couple lives in the hill town of Antipolo, an hour outside Manila, in the Philippines. Outwardly, she is grandmotherly, sweet and tranquil. She was 12 years old at the time. Narcisa is one of the last survivors of a system of sexual servitude set up by the Japanese imperial troops during World War II.
They used abduction, coercion and deception to force women and girls to provide sexual gratification to military personnel. Researchers cited in court cases say that large s of them did not survive. It was a far-ranging system of sexual enslavement.
Historians estimate that somewomen were victimized by Japanese soldiers in parts of Asia occupied by Japan, prominently Korea. And in the Philippines as well. There were "probably about a thousand women and girls taken and put into military sex-slave camps" during the Japanese occupation from toaccording to writer and researcher Evelina Galang. Over a period of 18 months, NPR identified and conducted interviews with at least two dozen survivors across the Philippines.
In several instances, close family members shared stories told to them by the women who were too infirm to talk. Their portraits are not only the tale of their grievous bodily violations but a tableau of life in war. The Japanese called them "comfort women" — a term derived from the Japanese word ianfucombining the Chinese characters meaning "comfort or solace" i-an with woman fu. The enslavement camps where they were forced to have sexual intercourse with Japanese soldiers were called "comfort stations" and were often the same garrisons where they were being held.
Manila-based attorney Romel Bagares, who has represented some of the women for 16 years, told NPR that the term "hides the untold abuse the victims suffered under the Japanese Imperial Army and denies the victims the dignity they deserve. Yet the women commonly use the term. Bagares says in some cases it's a bid to "own it" and have it "ify protest.
Japan rationalized the sex slave practice as a way to curb the rape of local women by Japanese troops following the event known I m looking for a sex slave the Rape of Nanking inwhen their soldiers sexually assaulted tens of thousands of women in the city that was then the capital of China. For decades, the survivors of the "comfort women" system did not share their stories. Their private pain, hidden in shame, was concealed from the outside world. But by the early s, details of their experiences began to emerge in a series of lawsuits against Japan. They wanted Japan to offer a public apology and financial compensation for their suffering.
The women of South Korea were the first to organize "comfort women" into a national movement, adding the term to the jurisprudence of human rights for women in wartime. Carol Glucka history professor at Columbia University who focuses on modern-day Japan, says, "Without the testimonies of the comfort women, we would not know what happened. But the larger-scale story of sexual enslavement inflicted on Korea, which was under Japanese colonial rule for 35 years, has eclipsed the experience of other so-called "comfort women.
In the Philippines, their confinement ranged from a matter of nights to more than a year. When the war was over, these women were left with physical and psychological scars: post-traumatic stress disorder, sexually transmitted diseases and damaged reproductive systems. Many were treated as outcasts, at times shunned by their own families. Organized in various and sometimes competing groups, the so-called "comfort women" of the Philippines have demanded official recognition and compensation from Japan as well as acknowledgment by the Philippine government of their continuing plight.
Of the approximately women who were identified as "comfort women" in the Philippines, only 45 to 50 are believed to be alive today. Many are reluctant to speak about their experience owing to privacy, trauma and old age. Here are some of their stories recorded by the NPR team — correspondent Julie McCarthy, photojournalist Cheryl Diaz Meyer and producer Ella Mage — and some of the controversies that persist to I m looking for a sex slave day as the women demand justice. Japanese occupiers arrived at her family's doorstep in Abra, a rugged corner in the northwest main island of Luzon, in Narcisa Claveria said troops moved house to house looking for Philippine guerrillas and accusing her father, the village leader, of colluding with them.
They lashed him to a pillar of the house. Her father said he "knew nothing," as he pleaded for mercy. Before her eyes, Narcisa said, a Japanese solider took "his bayonet" and began to skin her father "like a water buffalo. Hearing her mother's cries, she raced upstairs.
Then I ran. They were "maybe 4 and 5 years old," she says. Narcisa believes her parents were killed when Japanese troops torched the village that day. Soldiers dragged her and two older sisters off to a garrison. The oldest she never saw again. Narcisa was among eight girls and women who by day cooked, cleaned and did laundry. By night, she says, the troops raped them. She says if they protested, "they flayed us with horse's whip. Narcisa was 12 and says she endured approximately 18 months as a captive in the garrison.
In her one family, four sisters, their mother and an aunt were subjected to systematized sexual violence in the war. Narcisa attributes her survival after such an experience to the man who became her husband, Anaceto Claveria.
I don't think less of you. You are lucky because you came back alive. Everything the Japanese did to you, throw out of your mind. These days, Narcisa masks up and goes to the market once a week, and checks in on her son. The Philippines has one of the highest rates of coronavirus infection in Southeast Asia, but that doesn't deter her.
We pass over the threshold of the door that le us through the overgrown remains of Belo Mansion, and Teresita Bermudez Dayo, 90, hesitates. This is not a good place," she says. InTeresita was imprisoned within its dark walls and used as a "comfort woman" by the occupying Japanese soldiers in the Philippines.
She recalled that she was 12 years old, traveling with her family as they moved back from the mountains where they'd sheltered at the start of the war, when Japanese soldiers stopped them. The soldiers led her to their armored vehicle. She remembers trembling "with fear" as she left her family behind. The soldiers brought her to the mansion in Roxas City, which had been commandeered by the Japanese Imperial Army.
Teresita shudders as she tells how they pushed her into a small windowless room "lit by one electric bulb. Teresita says she cried, "Help me, God," as Japanese soldiers paired off and, two at a time, raped her until she "lost consciousness. She fondly remembers a Filipina, whom she suspected was the mistress of one Japanese officer. She "took pity on me," says Teresita, who calls her "an angel.
I will help you. After several days she reunited with her family. Teresita's parents ordered her to never speak of what happened, she said. Maneuvering around her father's I m looking for a sex slave attitude toward suitors, Teresita says, at age 20 she answered an ad in the newspaper calling for pen pals.
After a five-year courtship nearly all by mail, she married her pen pal inand together they raised a family. Teresita told us that throughout her life, she did "agonize" over the sexual assault. Then at age 50, "I decided to think of the present. The present is good. She stood up in her dining room, raised her arms, swiveled her tiny hips and began to shuffle her feet. It would be another 20 years before she would publicly reveal her wartime ordeal, a decision that came inafter hearing her daughter's mother-in-law talk on the radio about how she'd been a "comfort woman.
Because Teresita did not declare herself a victim in the early stages of compensation efforts for the "comfort women," she was not eligible to receive money. She currently lives with her daughter, Divina Dayo Bermejo, 58, in Roxas City and is unable to move around without assistance.
She lives off her late husband's modest pension and a monthly stipend from her days as a schoolteacher — reason enough to receive reparations, she says. Maria Quistadio Arroyo was suffering from dementia when we visited her in late May at the home of her granddaughter in I m looking for a sex slave City, in the central section of the Philippine archipelago. From the front porch, she gazed at visitors, wide-eyed and unable to murmur all but a few words: "I don't remember any of you.
I'm now old. I don't remember. In earlier testimonials, she had recounted that in SeptemberJapanese soldiers barged into their home when her parents were in the fields harvesting and dragged her and her brother off to their encampment at the Capiz Emmanuel Hospital. The soldiers had slaughtered the family's pig and forced her brother to carry the carcass to the garrison, where he dropped it at the entrance. Seeing "no further use for him," Maria said, the soldiers beat him to death in the yard. She passed out and recalled waking in a locked room, the start of a savage routine where, she said, "sometimes two or three soldiers would alternate raping me," heedless to the pleas of a year-old.
In these interviews, Maria had said she felt "blessed" when David Arroyo, a carpenter, pledged "to reverse what damage" the Japanese had done to her during the war. But her husband's promise to protect her turned false, and Maria said that as he grew older, he drank and became violent. Her daughter Lolita Arroyo Acuyong told NPR that on many occasions her father would hit her mother with "his fists" and "wooden planks. Maria Quistadio Arroyo died Oct.
Like many "comfort women," she lived a life of economic distress. Her family raised money for her burial from the local governor and congressman. Other surviving "comfort women" donated money. The funeral parlor issued a loan for the remaining amount. Arroyo's daughter Lolita Arroyo Acuyong supplied vital additional details. Narcisa Claveria became an early member of the Lila Pilipina — the League of I m looking for a sex slave Lolas — the country's earliest organization for surviving "comfort women.
Founded inthe organization grew to include some women, with the stated goal of enabling the women "to have a direct voice in the direction of their campaign for justice. The courts ruled that all postwar claims had been settled by the San Francisco Peace Treaty.
And none of it was intended to compensate for the damage from Japan's sexual slavery system, says Nelia Sancho, former coordinator with the Asian Women's Human Rights Council. Inspired by the stories of the "comfort women" in South Korea, she became one of the earliest organizers of survivors in the Philippines.
It was Sancho who enlisted a radio station to encourage Philippine women who had been abused by wartime Japanese troops to come forward — the catalyst for their movement. Sancho says that after general reparations were paid, the Japanese "lost their memory of any more crimes.
Yet the issue of apologizing and compensating for Japan's wartime sexual exploitation is far from resolved — and remains politically contentious. A succession of Japanese prime ministers has apologized for the "grave affront" to the "dignity" of the women who were sexually enslaved.
Some even wrote apology letters personally addressed to the women. InTokyo created the Asian Women's Fund to pay "atonement" money to the women, soliciting private donations; the last of the payments in the Philippines was made in the early s. For the fund, the issue had been wrapped up. Kazuhiko Togo, a retired Japanese career diplomat, told NPR that the Asian Women's Fund represented "the long process of soul-searching of the Japanese themselves to try to stand by the side of the victim comfort women. Togo added, "By nature, that very suffering will not go away.
And this we Japanese have to remember, have to recognize and remember. But controversy arose. Fewer than women in the Philippines accepted the money, according to Sancho, who helped many of them apply. Those who rejected the payment said that compensation from the private sector made it seem like a charitable contribution rather than official reparations.
By contrast, the Japanese government says women in the Philippines received funds. Sancho says women who were poor but not former "comfort women" wound up on the rolls. But she returned the letter of apology ed by then-Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, saying it could be sincere only if accompanied by compensation directly from the state. She continues to demand state compensation, which she would like to give to her grandchildren.
The Japanese Embassy in Washington declined to provide a spokesperson on the issue. The statement declares: "On various occasions, Japan has clearly expressed feelings of remorse and apology, and its resolve to ensure that such an unfortunate history is never repeated, as shown in the statement by the then Prime Minister on August 15, ," a reference to Tomiichi Murayama, who went further than any prime minister when he expressed his "deep remorse" and "heartfelt apology" for the suffering that Japan inflicted during the war.
However, Gluck, the Columbia University historian, says the position of former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who recently stepped down after his second stint leading Japan, "is not one of apology, nor is it one of recognition of the coercion of the comfort women.
Narcisa Claveria blames the government of the Philippines: "Our own presidents don't even know how to protect the citizens who were abused during the war. They were embarrassed by us. The Philippine government did not respond to NPR's repeated requests for comment. In court documents, the government has said that apologies made by Japan were satisfactory and that Japan had addressed individual claims of the women through payment of "atonement money.
Driving toward the village of Mapaniqui, we spot the skeleton of a once-grand red-painted house looming into view, ruins that have occupied the imagination of the women of the area for 75 years.I m looking for a sex slave
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