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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 numbers of them did not survive. It was a far-ranging system of sexual enslavement. Historians estimate that some , women 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 to , according 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 ianfu , combining the Chinese characters meaning "comfort or solace" i-an with woman fu.