In this lesson students will learn the history of an often-overlooked part of World War II – the girls and women forced into military sexual slavery under the occupation of the Japanese army. In The Apology, three of the surviving women, nicknamed “the Grandmas,” Adela Barroquillo from the Philippines, Cao Hei Mao from China and Gil Won-Ok from South Korea, relate their experiences as young girls during the war and reflect on the scars this violence left on their entire lives.
Sexual violence and rape during war is not unique to World War II, nor are women and girls the only victims. Governments and the military use rape as a weapon of war to dehumanize and humiliate populations, exert their power and damage communities for generations.
For over 70 years these women, euphemistically called “comfort women,” have carried the weight of shame, trauma and fear of rejection. Many did not speak about what they had experienced. They were sometimes pressured into silence by their communities, who regarded the women as shameful or even blamed them for what occurred. It has taken decades for their stories to emerge, but as Director Tiffany Hsiung of The Apology says, “They still need us to listen and respond.” Learning to listen deeply to and acknowledge the stories of survivors is a form of justice. This lesson uses first-hand testimonies to understand the consequences of war through the eyes of women who are sharing their stories as an act of healing, a form of resistance and an attempt at historical reconciliation.
Note to Educators: The Apology is a documentary film about women’s experience of sexual violence and rape during war. While the focus on the lesson revolves around what we can learn from their stories and how it can inspire change, students are asked to be active listeners as the women share traumatic memories. Setting the historical and emotional context for this lesson and creating a safe space within your classroom to discuss this topic is critical. It is expected that this lesson would be integrated only within courses where students have been prepared to encounter this history and have the maturity with which to share and process the information.
In the Resource section of this lesson you will find several recommended organizations and materials to use as you prepare to approach this topic with students.