Lolas: Survivors of Enslavement

During World War II, hundreds of thousands of women and girls were taken by force, some as young as 13, and were assaulted by up to 50 imperial Japanese soldiers daily. There are only about 10 comfort women still alive out of the estimated 1,000 Filipinas forced into sexual servitude by the Japanese.

Three out of four comfort women died during the war, after being subjected to rape, sexual torture, starvation, physical abuse, forced abortion, and sterilization. The ones who survived suffered bouts of psychiatric instability, post traumatic syndrome, suicidality, sexually transmitted diseases, infertility, stigma, and shame.

With pain etched in their faces, the last living comfort women and their families gather from time to time and continue to fight for historical inclusion, a formal apology, and restitution as the Japanese government quietly undermines them. A bronze statue, created in their honor in 2017, was removed from Manila Bay within weeks of its unveiling—a bow to Japanese pressure—but they are working to install it in a new location.

Generations later, the issue of “comfort women” is still being reconciled by the survivors and their families whose lives were shattered during World War II. The women were unable to continue their education and most of their families are disadvantaged economically.

Despite bitter memories, the women find joy and hope in daily living with the support of their families.

With each death, their stories come closer to being buried forever.

In this project, grantee Cheryl Diaz Meyer documents the enduring legacy of sexual violence.