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Yokosuka rape victim takes fight for justice to U.S. courts

by Simon Scott

Australian Catherine Jane Fisher, who was raped by a U.S. Navy sailor in Yokosuka in 2002, has now taken her case for compensation all the way to the U.S. courts.

A civil judgment by a Tokyo court in 2004 ordered Bloke T. Deans to pay ¥3 million in damages to Fisher as compensation for the rape, but by the time the ruling was issued, Deans had already left the country. The Japanese courts were unable to enforce the ruling and Fisher never received a penny from Deans.

Fisher did eventually receive some compensation, but it was not until 2008 and the money came from a Japanese Ministry of Defense fund for victims of crimes committed by U.S. military personnel.

In May this year Fisher filed a lawsuit in Milwaukee, where Deans is currently resident, in an attempt to have the Japanese judgment against him enforced in the U.S.

Fisher says she decided to file the suit at this late juncture in part because, after going public about the case, she was contacted by a woman in the U.S. who claims she, too, was raped by Deans. Fisher says she can’t disclose the victim’s identity because of fears for the woman’s safety, but she wants to ensure no one else has to suffer the way she did.

“When I heard the other woman was raped, I thought, ‘I can’t give up — not now that other victims have become involved,” she says. “So that is why I continue.”

She also wants Deans to be brought to account for what he did, especially as she never had the chance to see Deans face charges in a criminal court.

“It is like someone just running away. He received immunity — like a diplomat or something,” fisher says. “He needs to stand up and take responsibility for raping me.”

Fisher also discovered earlier this year that Deans had committed other unrelated crimes in the U.S.

According to Wisconsin court records, he was sentenced earlier this year to 45 days in prison in Milwaukee County for child neglect. Media reported at the time that police found three of his children — a 2-year-old and two 3-year-old twins — abandoned in his house in a room bolted on the outside, severely distressed and covered in their own feces and urine.

Disturbed by the news Deans was still out there harming people, and longing for closure, Fisher decided take her case to the U.S. courts.

“I still have not received closure and I should not have had to fight for it 10 years, but that is what has happened,” she explains. “For 10 years I never gave up this fight — even though the Japanese and U.S. governments tried to turn a blind eye to it, sweep it under the carpet and pretend it didn’t happen.”

Despite Deans being found guilty in a civil court judgment in 2004 in Japan, he has not been charged in criminal court with rape by Japanese or U.S. authorities.

U.S. Forces Japan said in a statement that the Japanese government had primary jurisdiction in the case and the prosecutor elected not to indict Deans after police investigated.

The U.S. Navy also investigated the case and the convening authority, Commander Naval Forces Japan, determined there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Deans.

After the investigation ended, Deans was given an honorable discharge as his term of military service had by then expired.

Fisher’s lawsuit is somewhat of a landmark, because it is thought to be the first time someone has tried to have a Japanese civil court ruling for a rape case applied in the United States.

Fisher’s U.S. attorney, Christopher Hanewicz, of Perkins Coie, says U.S. courts have a strong history of enforcing judgments made in foreign courts, such as the 2004 decision in Fisher’s favor.

“We believe the Japanese court reached the right result after a thoughtful analysis of the record. And we believe the Milwaukee Circuit Court should recognize that decision and enforce it against Mr. Deans,” he says.

In response to Fisher’s suit, Dean’s attorneys, Alex Flynn & Associates, filed a motion to dismiss the complaint on what appear to be primarily jurisdictional and technical grounds.

The defendant’s motion, a copy of which was supplied to The Japan Times, names as one of its objections the fact that the official English translation of the original 2004 ruling names the defendant as “Broke Deans” rather than “Bloke Deans.”

Fisher’s counsel then counter-argued that this was simply the result of the classic Japanese “r/l” translation error.

To quote from the plaintiff’s brief: “The Japanese alphabet does not have sounds that perfectly and phonetically correlate to the English ‘r’ and ‘l,’ and the ‘ro’ and ‘lo’ sounds are represented by the same letter.”

Another objection related to an error that occurred when the original Japanese judgment was photocopied and the official court certification page was obscured.

Hanewicz says he believes Dean’s objections are “trivial and overly technical” and should not get in the way of the case proceeding.

He adds that he is impressed with the strength Fisher has shown over the years in continuing to seek justice. “We are proud to represent her in this case and hope that we can help give her some sense of closure.

“I hope that this case sends a message to victims of rape that there are people out there who care, and who will stand beside them as they work within our system of justice to be heard and to be vindicated,” he says.

A hearing is scheduled for Sept. 6 in Milwaukee, and the court will decide then whether to proceed with the case.

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