Manila – Rosa Henson, a survivor of wartime sexual slavery at the hands of Japanese forces, went public in 1992 with her story. She had no idea what would follow.
Almost 1 000 women across the Philippines stepped forward after her with their own accounts of abuse by the Imperial Japanese Army. The women spoke out despite sometimes uncomfortable public scrutiny and even shaming from their own families.
The sad history of Asian women forced to become sexual chattel during World War II – so-called "comfort women" – is most often associated with South Korea, where protests and demands for Japanese reparations have gone on for decades.
But there were more women in other countries occupied by Japan. In the Philippines, they were abducted between 1942 and 1945, then systematically raped by hundreds of men, according to survivors’ accounts.
One organisation advocating for survivors, Lila Pilipina, documented almost 200 cases in the Philippines. Now, only eight members are left. The youngest is 89.
The survivors blame their own government for a lack of support. Japan is one of the Philippines’ top investors and donors. It is a sought-after destination for workers from the Philippines.
"It’s easy to understand (why Japan) does what it does," said Sharon Silva, director of Lila Pilipina. "But for the Philippine government, it’s incomprehensible."
Advocates worry their fight is being not only forgotten but actively erased. Two statues honoring comfort women were taken down in the past year.
The first statue was removed during road construction, but some government officials also said its presence hurt ties with Japan. The Japanese Embassy had also complained about the second statue, which was later taken down.
The plight of survivors is a testament to how deeply sexual violence is embedded in wartime history.
It also underscores the power of women speaking up together.
"The struggle is not yet over," Silva said.
But more than 70 years after the war – still with no formal apology or compensation – time is running out for them.
The Washington Post