An Australian woman who was raped by a U.S. military serviceman more than a decade ago renewed on Thursday her request to Japan’s government to amend the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which critics claim allows both countries to evade responsibility for misconduct linked to U.S. bases.
“(Tomorrow) will mark 16 years that I have been trying to change one part of Article 16 of the SOFA … to change just one word,” said Catherine Jane Fisher, a human rights activist and long-term resident of Japan, during a news conference in Tokyo.
Fisher said she will meet with Foreign Ministry officials on Friday to ask them to work toward the revision.
Court records show that Fisher was raped by American serviceman Bloke Deans near the U.S. Navy base in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, in 2002. In 2004, a Tokyo court ordered Deans to pay ¥3 million in damages as compensation. But he had already left Japan and has not returned.
Fisher later asked the Foreign Ministry to locate him, but she said her request was rejected based on Article 16 of the bilateral agreement.
Fisher said she was told by the ministry at the time that members of the U.S. military only have to “respect the laws of Japan, not obey them.” She believes the word “respect” in the article should have been interpreted to mean almost the same as “obey” when the pact came into force in 1960.
Without support from either government, Fisher located Deans on her own after 10 years of searching.
During her search she also found a report from a woman alleging Deans had raped her in the U.S. after he fled Japan.
Fisher brought her case to the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in Wisconsin after locating Deans. Based on a document Deans submitted to the court, she discovered that the U.S. military had intentionally transferred him out of Japan.
The Milwaukee court enforced a Japanese civil judgment convicting Deans of rape. The ruling is believed to have been the first time a rape judgment from Japan has been enforced in the U.S.
Deans was never subject to a criminal prosecution. In an effort to secure justice, Fisher agreed to a $1 settlement in exchange for an admission from Deans that he committed the rape. “Justice is the only thing that matters,” Fisher said Thursday at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan.
She received the $1 settlement in 2016. On the same day, Rina Shimabukuro, a girl from Okinawa, was raped and murdered by a civilian U.S. base worker.
“What has changed? Nothing,” Fisher said. “It’s about time the buck stops here.”