Catherine Fisher was once just another foreign resident of Tokyo, living out her life in a middle-class neighborhood with her children. But in April 2002, the Australian native made the fateful decision to arrange a meeting with her boyfriend, Jerry, near the U.S. military base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.
The story of what happened next is now well known, thanks to Fisher’s rare and courageous decision to go public, first as simply “Jane” — her middle name — and later using her full name. In the back of her van, in a Yokosuka car park, U.S. serviceman Bloke Deans raped Fisher, leaving her shocked and bleeding. She managed to make her way to the local police station, where what she calls her second violation began.
Instead of taking her to hospital, the policemen forced her to look for the man who had just raped her. They took her back to the car park to “reenact” the rape and assault for a police photographer, apparently forgetting, she says, that the victim’s body is the most crucial part of the crime scene.
“It was so scandalously absurd,” she writes of the 12-hour post-rape ordeal in her new book, “I am Catherine Jane: The True Story of One Woman’s Quest for Justice.” Unable to hold on to her urine, she eventually flushed the evidence down the toilet. “These policemen were controlling me just like the man who had just raped me,” she remembers.
The book opens with the force of a punch to the gut by describing the assault and aftermath in graphic detail. Her attacker, she recalls, “grunted like a pig” as he mounted her. Later, wrapped in a blanket, she watched in horror as the policemen went through the formal procedures of assaults, measuring the car park with tape measures and asking her to point to where she was raped.
“I truly wished I were dead,” she writes, as her rage and frustration grew at the thought that all real physical evidence in the assault was ebbing away, “drip, drip, drip, as the camera went click, click, click.” She says she could feel the police branding her while they worked: “Lowlife. Trash. Slut. Whore.”
Twelve years later, Fisher still hurts from her treatment by the authorities.
“I was thinking, ‘How could this be happening in Japan?’ It was so hard to get through just one day, every day,” she told The Japan Times. The way she coped, she says, was by chain-smoking and drinking. “But I never took medication. It makes suicide more likely. And if you have it in your house, you can overdose on it.”
Deans was allowed to return to the U.S. and was honorably discharged, for reasons that remain murky. Fisher won a civil suit against him in a Tokyo court in 2004 but the ruling had no jurisdictional authority in the U.S. Last year, after tracking Deans in America for several years, Fisher finally persuaded a circuit court in the U.S. to enforce that judgment for rape against him.
Fisher’s insistence that the U.S. military had helped Deans evade justice and that the Japanese government did little to help her pursue him was strengthened in the Milwaukee County Circuit Court by a statement submitted by Deans in which he claims a U.S. Navy lawyer told him to leave the country. The U.S. court’s decision was a victory for Fisher, but one that left her physically, mentally and financially exhausted, she says.
“I had many nervous breakdowns,” she recalls. “I was completely suicidal. The way the police treated me, that should never have happened. I could have returned to Australia and closed my eyes, but somebody had to stand up.”
Fisher’s battle has made her a public figure of sorts in Japan, though she expresses surprise that the local media has rarely interviewed her. She says “dozens” of raped woman have got in touch to tell their stories.
“If they contact me, they have nowhere to go,” she says. “They always say, ‘Why did the police treat me like a criminal?’ ”
One woman even sent Fisher a series of mails claiming she too had been raped by Deans.
The messages, reprinted in her book, said Deans put guns to her head and told her she was his “property.”
“He raped me with the barrel of a shotgun and threatened to pull the trigger,” the woman wrote. “He will never go to jail for abusing me because I kept my mouth shut and made excuses, but at least hopefully the children that he has neglected and abused will find justice and you will too.”
Fisher is unclear, however, if much has changed since her ordeal, although several high-profile cases suggest Japanese courts are now more likely to convict American servicemen. Naha District Court, for example, sentenced two sailors to 10 years last year for raping a Japanese woman in October 2012.
But in a survey released this year, the Associated Press found a “pattern of random and inconsistent judgments” in more than 1,000 reports of sex crimes involving Japan-based U.S. military personnel between 2005 and early 2013. AP said that in some cases, commanders “overruled recommendations to court-martial and dropped the charges instead.”
Fisher says she still hears of cases where rape victims are refused treatment in police stations when they report the crime. She is still campaigning for 24-hour rape crisis centers, and for making rape kits mandatory in police stations and hospitals.
“There is a place to go if there is an earache or a backache, so why isn’t there a place to go to if you get raped?” she says. “It is because of the stigma attached to rape.”
But she says Japan now tries to involve the victims of crimes by U.S. military personnel in their investigations, rather than ignoring them — as she insists happened to her.
“I think U.S. military crimes are getting a bit more publicity now,” she says.
As for Fisher’s personal scars, the impact of her ordeal rippled out to damage those around her, including her Japanese ex-husband, who quietly listened to her story and then tried to kill himself.
“I realized that I had been so caught up in my own problems that I did not see how depressed he was,” she writes.
Her mother fell ill, and Fisher’s relationship with Jerry, her long-term partner, also collapsed under the pressure of her fight. Her three children had to watch their mother unravel over several years.
“I was in court every month. That’s 10 years of court cases,” she says. “I saw my family falling like dominoes around me.”
“By the time I finished the book I was ready to collapse. I had to go on a drip — I was iron-deficient. The impact affects every single person when someone is raped. We were evicted three times. I thought I couldn’t continue. Then I read this guy was raping a woman with his pistols, and I said, ‘I can’t give up now.’ ”
So the fight goes on, she says. In her quest to find out why her attacker was allowed to leave Japan and discharged in the middle of a rape case, she says she recently met the director of public affairs for the U.S. military in Japan. After some verbal jousting, she says the director “very nonchalantly” told her, “We believe that we have no gain in talking to you.”
The statement gives the lie, she says, to the U.S. military’s claims of zero tolerance of rape.
“The stories pouring in from around the world contradict this,” she writes. “Sweeping them under the carpet will never make them go away. It all begins to change when people admit that there is a grave problem at hand. I won’t give up.”
She says the book is part of her effort to “stamp out the crime called rape.”
“It’s a journey of my transformation,” she says. “I hope it will have an impact on other people and that people will read it and it will awaken something in them. It’s not easy to put my entire life out there for people to see. But I do hope, with this book, that things will change. The whole world can see this is what is going on, and we can no longer just hide the fact that these crimes are happening.”
“As for me, I’m just lucky that I came out of this alive.”