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War-rape victim fights to abolish it as a weapon

Japanese army brutalized Filipina in Second World War

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Therapist Cristina Rosello comforts Fidencia David, 86, one of the last living  'comfort women' Japanese soldiers raped as they pillaged the Philippines in the Second World War. Even today, 72 years later, David is overcome with emotion when telling of her experience.

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Therapist Cristina Rosello comforts Fidencia David, 86, one of the last living 'comfort women' Japanese soldiers raped as they pillaged the Philippines in the Second World War. Even today, 72 years later, David is overcome with emotion when telling of her experience.

It happened 72 years ago, but talking about getting raped at age 14 by a Japanese Imperial Army soldier still reduces Fidencia David to tears.

"It was very painful," recalled the 86-year-old woman, used as a sex slave by Japanese soldiers in the Philippines during the Second World War.

Her family's farm was pillaged and their home was burned down.

"We were forced into the municipal hall that was converted into a garrison," the elderly woman sobbed Thursday during a visit to Winnipeg organized by the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. She was beaten. A soldier groped her and she kicked him. He gagged her then raped her. She witnessed the rape of her grandmother, whose body was later found in a rice field. David was raped some more.

She never learned to read or write, but the mother of eight can speak and has travelled the world telling people what happened to her and demanding an end to war and rape as a weapon.

'Speaking out helps. I got a sense of solace from those women'

-- Fidencia David

In Africa, she met with close to 3,000 other victims of war rape in a number of countries and felt a connection to those women in faraway places.

"Speaking out helps," she said through her interpreter and therapist at a news conference hosted by the Winnipeg Chinese Cultural and Community Centre.

"I got a sense of solace from those women."

David is the last of 46 "comfort women" in the Philippines treated by clinical psychologist Cristina Rosello. Rosello grew up hearing about the atrocities committed by the Japanese army during the Second World War in the Philippines. After she was raped, she switched from being a chemistry major in university to clinical psychology. "I wanted to heal myself."

Rosello met David at a UN women's conference in Beijing in the 1990s after the story of the "comfort women" was first made public by survivors who'd suffered in silent shame for decades. An estimated 200,000 women in Korea, China, the Philippines and other Asian countries were sexually exploited by the Japanese military during the Second World War in "comfort stations."

Rosello volunteered to work with 46 survivors in the Philippines. "They are all dead now except for her," said Rosello, who's been beside David since they flew to Winnipeg from Manila. Next week, they'll speak in Toronto.

David was clear about her purpose for the trip to Canada.

"I'm asking you to help us find redress," she told a news conference. She's been lobbying for restitution for years. She said the Filipino government did nothing for the survivors, most of whom are now dead. The Japanese government hasn't made a formal apology or restitution, said Rosello.

The Japanese people, not the government, raised some money for the "comfort women" in several Asian countries, but it was a pittance that didn't do much to help families in poverty such as David's, she said. The Chinese suffered atrocities at the hands of the Japanese army during the Second World War, said the centre's president, Dr. Joseph Du.

"We will forgive but not forget," Du said.

Most people are familiar with the horrors of war in Europe but know little about the inhumanity that occurred in Asia, he said.

"When we talk about (it), as painful as that may be, that is where the healing begins," said Stuart Murray, chief executive officer of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Rape is still being used as a weapon of war and sexual exploitation and violence continue, Murray said.

"Here in Canada, aboriginal women are murdered and missing at an alarming rate," he said. "We need to talk, not leave them isolated in shame and denial."

The museum will get those discussions started and keep them going, he said.

"That is our role."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 18, 2013 A10

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