FROM 1928 until the end of World War II, about 200,000 Asian women were
forcibly drafted into sexual servitude by the Japanese Imperial Army.
These women, many in their teens, were often either tricked by offers of legitimate employment or abducted by Japanese soldiers and forced into so-called comfort houses. There they were forced to sexually please their captors, sometimes several at a time up to several times a day. To resist, invited beatings, torture and even death.
According to the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, a Swiss-based international women's rights organisation, they generally received little or no medical treatment even if they were injured in the process of rape and torture or became pregnant or infected with venereal disease.
Towards the end of the War, thousands were executed to conceal the existence of the comfort houses. In the Philippines, a human rights group has documented the cases of three survivors who bear the marks of where the Japanese tried to behead them.
About 60,000 comfort women survived the War and approximately one thousand are alive today, the youngest of whom is in her sixties. After decades of hiding what happened, they are now finding the courage to come out and tell their stories.
In the Philippines in 1993, about 150 women came forward when the Task Force on Filipino Comfort Women asked in a series of popular radio programs for comfort women to contact it.
One of these was Felicidad de Los Reyes. This is her story:
Felicidad was born on November 22, 1928 in Masbate, Philippines.
One day in 1943 three truckloads of Japanese soldiers from the garrison compound at the back of her school visited Felicidad's class. Her Japanese teacher had organised the students to perform songs and dances for the visiting soldiers. The Japanese army often introduced Japanese civilian teachers into schools in its conquered territories.
Felicidad, then only 14, was made to sing. The following day her teacher told the class that the soldiers were so impressed with the students' performance that they wanted to reward them. Felicidad was identified as one who was to be given an award and later that day two soldiers arrived to fetch her. They told her that she would be given the gift at the garrison. Thinking that there might be other students there, Felicidad went along. But when she got there, she did not see any of her school friends. Instead the only other women she saw were doing the soldiers' cooking and laundry.
She became worried. She asked to leave. The two guards refused. Instead they took her to a small room in the compound and pushed her in. They told her that her gift was coming.
A few hours later five Japanese soldiers arrived. Three of them were in uniform and two in civilian clothes. One of them jumped onto her catching her by the arms and forcing her down onto the ground. When she struggled, another punched her in the face while another grabbed her legs and held them apart. Then they took it in turns to rape her.
Felicidad had no knowledge about sex. She did not even have her menstruation. So she did not understand what they were doing to her. She begged them to stop. But they just laughed and whenever she struggled or screamed, they would punch and kick her.
Confused and frightened and tired and in pain, she drifted in and out of consciousness. That night three more soldiers came and repeatedly raped her. For the next three days a succession of soldiers abused her.
The continual raping and beatings finally took their toll and on the third day she fell ill. Her body and mind could take it no more. But even though she was obviously sick, the abuse continued. Not even her fever drew pity from her rapists.
Finally on the morning of the fourth day, a Filipino interpreter working for the Japanese visited her. She told him she was very sick and wanted to go home to recover. Feeling sympathy for her, he let her out of the compound.
When she arrived home, her parents who had no idea where she was, cried after learning what had happened. Just the year before an older sister had been taken by the Japanese. She died in a comfort house.
Fearing the soldiers would come looking for her, her father hid her in a nearby village. She stayed there for about a year until the American army arrived.
After the War, Felicidad returned to her home town. But her experiences at the hands of the Japanese soldiers had left deep psychological scars. She found it hard to socialise and could not face going back to school. She felt dirty. She dared not tell anyone outside her parents. She was afraid of how others would view her if they knew the truth. So she buried it inside.
When she was 25 she moved to Manila where she met her husband. Before marrying, Felicidad decided she could not conceal her experiences from the man she was going to marry, so she told him.
They were married in 1956 and had six children and 15 grandchildren. But outside her husband, she told no one else for almost 37 years.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: ANTHONY BROWN is an Irish-born journalist based in Brisbane. Anthony has written several articles on Filipino women's issues for KASAMA. His most recent book "The Boys from Ballymore" is published by Penguin Books Australia Ltd.
IN late June 1995, Felicidad de los Reyes and Nelia Sancho visited Brisbane as part of a national speaking tour entitled Women's Human Rights: Eliminating Violence Against Women in the Home and on the Battlefield. Organised by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, the tour was funded by a grant from the Office of the Status of Women.
The tour aimed to galvanise public interest and raise public awareness about gender-specific violence in the Asia and Pacific regions, in the belief that breaking the silence is a preliminary for ending the violence against women in the family and in war.
The final event of the Brisbane visit, a public meeting at the Miscellaneous Worker's Union Building in Spring Hill, enabled Felicidad and Nelia to tell their stories to the local communities, show slides, and raise public awareness about the cause of Filipino "comfort women", the activities of Lila Pilipina, and the issues which still need to be addressed. After an opening by Mary Crawford, MP, Nelia and Felicidad - as always during the tour- spoke powerfully and sensitively about the issues to a hushed audience.
Chris Henderson, WILPF Brisbane
Surviving comfort women throughout Asia are now demanding justice from
the Japanese Government for what happened to them.
They allege the Japanese Government during the War not only knew what its soldiers were up to, but that the system of sexual slavery was official government policy.
They argue that the authorities systematically planned, ordered, conscripted, established the army brothels and encouraged the abductions of women in countries occupied by the Japanese Imperial Army.
Besides seeking compensation and prosecutions of those responsible, they want the Japanese Government to admit its guilt. To date the Japanese Government has refused all their demands.
ARTICLES ABOUT "COMFORT WOMEN" IN KASAMA