Around the nondescript Tokyo suburb where she lives with her three children, Jane is a well-known face. Foreign in an area crowded with Japanese, she has taught English for years here among neighbors who greet her warmly on the street. Few know that her life is consumed by a fight against one of the world’s most powerful military alliances, and a secret agreement that she says allows its crimes to go unpunished.
In a room cluttered with the detritus of her seven-year struggle she tells her story, which begins with a violent sexual assault. On April 6, 2002, Jane was raped by American sailor Bloke T. Deans in a car park near the U.S. Yokosuka Naval Base southwest of Tokyo. Shocked and bleeding, she ended up in the small hours inside the local police station, where what she calls her second violation began.
During a 12-hour interview with a team of male cops that stretched into the middle of the next day, she was “mocked,” refused food, medical aid and water, and treated like a criminal. Her demands for a container for her urine, which she believed contained the sperm of her attacker, were ignored until, crying with rage and frustration, she says she flushed the evidence of her rape down the station toilet. Then she was taken back to the car park, where she was forced to re-enact the assault for police cameras.
Her ordeal was bad enough to be branded “one of the worst cases of police re-victimization I have ever seen” by John Dussich, President of the World Society for Victimology, but it was in some ways just beginning. Deans was quickly found nearby, aboard the giant U.S. aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk, then, for reasons that remain murky, released. He was demobbed and slipped out of Japan, under the protection, believes Jane, of the military and perhaps the Japanese authorities. He lives today as a civilian in the U.S. city of Milwaukee.
“The military deliberately discharged Deans knowing full well that there were charges against him,” she says, drawing on the first of several cigarettes. She believes that Deans was let go to spare the U.S. Navy and its Japanese host embarrassment, forcing her to track him across America. “I’m not ever going to give up until justice is served, and that will happen when Deans faces me in court.”
Jane is one of hundreds of women assaulted by U.S. military personnel annually around the world, including in Japan, which is home to over 80 American bases and about 33,000 troops. The dense military presence is blamed for over 200,000 mostly off-duty crimes since the Japan-America Security Alliance was created in the early 1950s.
The bulk are petty offenses, but in one of the most notorious cases, a 12-year-old schoolgirl was raped and left for dead by three U.S. serviceman on the southern island of Okinawa, reluctant home to the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan. That 1995 crime shook the half-century alliance, sparking huge anti-US rallies and cries of “never again.” The pleas were ignored: Last year a 14-year-old was sexually assaulted by a U.S. Marine, one of several similar attacks on Japanese and Filipino women.
Protests forced the U.S. military recently to set up a “sexual assault prevention unit.” Opponents say, however, that the incidents are an inevitable consequence of transplanting young and often traumatized trained killers (many of the soldiers are veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars) among a local population they neither know nor respect. “There will be no peace here until the military is gone,” says Okinawa anti-base campaigner Rev. Natsume Taira.
Tensions between locals and the military are exacerbated by extraterritorial rights enjoyed by US personnel under the Status of Forces Agreement, which often allows them to avoid arrest for minor and sometimes even serious crimes. The agreement was reinforced by a recently uncovered deal between Washington and Tokyo to secretly waive jurisdiction against U.S. soldiers in all but the most serious crimes, according to researcher Shoji Niihara. “This is despite the fact that both governments declared openly that Japan would have prime judicial rights of all off-duty crimes by U.S. soldiers (here),” he explains. The aim, Niihara believes, was to protect the reputation of the American military, which is underwritten by the Japanese government to the tune of about $2 billion a year.
Under pressure, however, from increasingly angry citizens, Japan has toughened its response to crimes by off-duty American soldiers. In 2006, Kitty Hawk airman Oliver Reese Jr. was sentenced to life imprisonment in a Japanese court for a robbery-murder, also in Yokosuka. The court heard that Reese repeatedly stomped on the head and body of Yoshie Sato, 56, rupturing her liver and kidney after she refused to hand over ¥15,000. He spent the money on a sex show.
Sato’s fiance, Masanori Yamazaki, who was initially treated as a suspect in the murder, welcomes the conviction but argues that Reese was given preferential treatment. “He was eligible for the death penalty but it wasn’t considered.” Yamazaki is angry at the failure to crack down on military crimes. “I believe that in trying to protect the Japan-U.S. alliance, the government is not protecting its citizens.”
Last year, bureaucrats from Japan’s Ministry of Defense offered Yamazaki a blank check as compensation for Sato’s death. “They told me to fill in the amount I wanted. But they were going to demand the money from Reese’s family. U.S. military personnel are poor people. It is the Japanese government that loans them the land and the U.S. military that employs them. They are to blame but they have absolutely no sense of responsibility.”
The offer of what some victims call “shut-up money” was made to Jane too, this time from a fund used by the Defense Ministry to compensate the victims of U.S. military crimes in Japan. The ¥3 million check equaled the unpaid amount awarded by a Tokyo civil court, which convicted her attacker in his absence in 2004. In search of further retribution, Jane sued her police tormentors, fighting all the way to an appeal in the Tokyo High Court, which ruled against her in December. She is liable for all legal costs.
“The financial and emotional burdens have been enormous,” she admits, adding that she has repeatedly faced eviction from her house, and even postponed Christmas. “With my posttraumatic stress disorder, I’ve lost a lot of students as well. But at what point do you say, ‘I don’t care anymore’? I just can’t do that.” Lest she forgets why she is fighting, a poster of Deans captioned “Wanted for Rape” sits inches away.
In an effort to publicize her case, and banish some ghosts, she has just written a book about her experience. Due for publication in April, the title comes from something a rape victim on Okinawa told Jane after she gave a speech there to an anti-base rally. “She said, ‘I’m going to live my life from today.’ That moved me.” She continues to write letters to Japanese and U.S. politicians, including President Barack Obama, demanding they extradite her assailant and shine a light into a small but dark corner of the Pacific alliance.
“My No. 1 priority is getting Deans on trial, but I’d also like to think that if I can help one person by somehow turning this horrific experience into something positive, it will be worth it.
“You know, I was guilty until I could prove myself innocent; he is innocent until I can prove him guilty. How fair is that?”
“Jiyu no Tobira” (“The Door to Freedom”) will be published in April by Ochanomizu Shobo. Send comments on this issue and story ideas to firstname.lastname@example.org