Australian Catherine Fisher is one step closer to seeing justice done after a Milwaukee Circuit Court judge decided earlier this month to hear the case against former U.S. serviceman Bloke T. Deans, who raped her in Japan in 2002.

Fisher, who lives in Tokyo, traveled to the United States to attend a preliminary hearing in the case, although she didn’t make a statement to the court.

“I’m extremely pleased that the judge in Wisconsin has decided to take on my case and I now finally have the chance to get closure after a 10-year struggle for justice,” she said. “But it shouldn’t have taken this long — it shouldn’t have taken 10 years.”

Fisher, who until recently was referred to in media reports as “Jane,” said she was anxious about observing the proceedings, in part because she was fearful Deans would be there. In the event, only his legal representatives were present.

“It was one of the most emotional times of my life. Afterwards I broke down,” she said. “It’s 10 years of my life that I have spent fighting for this, and I was really relieved to finally have a U.S. judge recognize my case is important.”

Fisher’s suit against Deans relates to a 2004 civil judgment by a Tokyo court ordering him to pay ¥3 million in damages for emotional and physical harm from the rape in Yokosuka, where Deans was stationed with the U.S. Navy. But by the time the ruling was issued, Deans had already left the country and been given an honorable discharge from the navy, meaning the Japanese courts were unable to enforce the ruling and Fisher never got a penny from Deans.

She eventually received some compensation in 2008, but the money came from a Japanese Ministry of Defense fund for victims of crimes committed by U.S. military personnel.

Fisher is now seeking to have the Japanese judgment enforced in Milwaukee, where Deans is currently resident, having filed a lawsuit against him in May this year.

Through his counsel, Deans filed a motion to have the suit dismissed on primarily jurisdictional and technical grounds, but on Sept. 6 the Milwaukee court rejected this challenge and “gave standing” to Fisher to proceed with her lawsuit.

The next step is an evidentiary hearing scheduled for Oct. 18.

Fisher’s lawsuit is thought to be the first time someone has tried to have a Japanese civil court ruling in a rape case applied in the United States.

She is hopeful that victory in court will bring not just personal closure, but also inspire other victims of crimes to seek justice.

“I hope to win this case and by doing so give hope to other victims and deter people who are trying to run away from justice,” she said. “It will also be a message to members of the U.S. military that they don’t have impunity, and it shows the U.S. government has zero tolerance to rape.”

Fisher added that she has been overwhelmed by the support shown to her by people in the U.S. during her visit, especially her team of lawyers from firm Perkins Coie.

Members of the Milwaukee chapter of Veterans for Peace and Peace Action Wisconsin also attended court in a gesture of solidarity with Fisher.

Former army Col. Ann Wright, who became a well-known figure in the U.S. after she resigned from a high-profile post at the State Department to protest the war in Iraq, also attended the hearing.

“One in 3 women in the military are raped by fellow servicemen during their service; many civilian women living near U.S. military bases in the United States and in other countries are also raped by U.S. military personnel,” Wright said. “This case gives hope for those living in other countries who have never been able to hold the rapist accountable because he has been able to leave the country.”

Fisher’s case has been gaining increasing media attention in recent months both in Japan and abroad.

Australia’s “60 Minutes” screened an episode called “The Power of One” in June about Fisher’s story and TV Tokyo covered the case last month in a segment of its “Quest” program called “Umi O Koeta Saiban” (“Crossing the Ocean for Judgment”).

An online petition about Fisher’s case is currently running on the website Avaaz.org, calling on Foreign Minister Koichiro Genba to open an investigation into the problem of crimes committed by U.S. military personnel in Japan.

So far close to 9,000 signatures have been collected and Fisher will present them to the foreign minister’s office in person Tuesday before giving a news conference in Tokyo with Social Democratic Party lawmaker Ryoichi Hattori.

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