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Rape victim vs. 'wall of bureaucracy'
Woman fights for justice after Japanese police, U.S. forces decline to act
By SARAH SUK
The Japan Times: Feb. 17, 2006
In the early hours of an April day in 2002, an Australian woman claims she was raped by a U.S. sailor inside her van in a parking lot in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.
After getting what she termed an indifferent response from police, learning there was no 24-hour rape crisis center in Japan, and finding that neither Japanese prosecutors nor the U.S. Navy intended to press charges against the alleged perpetrator, she decided to take action so future victims would not have to go through what she did.
The woman filed a lawsuit seeking damages from the sailor, who was stationed aboard the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk. In November 2004, the Tokyo District Court declared in the suit that the man, named as the defendant, had raped the woman and ordered him in absentia to pay 3 million yen in compensation.
But the woman has no way of collecting from the man because he left Japan before the suit ended, was discharged in 2002 and his whereabouts is now unknown.
The woman's fight has been a difficult one, as her mostly single-handed efforts have often brought her up against a wall of bureaucracy in both Japan and the United States. Being an Australian residing in Japan has also complicated matters.
"There are three countries involved, but who will help me?" asked the woman, who recently wrote a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Rear Adm. James Kelly, commander of the U.S. Navy in Japan, seeking a prompt and thorough investigation.
She also wrote to Australian Prime Minister John Howard, asking for her government's assistance in facilitating the probe, but she had not received a substantive reply from any of them as of Feb. 12.
"How many more people have to be murdered and raped before someone does something?" the woman asked, referring to continued crimes involving U.S. military personnel in Japan, including the Jan. 3 robbery-murder of a Japanese woman in Yokosuka for which a U.S. sailor has been charged.
"The American military is supposed to be here to protect us, but they're obviously not protecting us," she said.
Masahiko Goto, a lawyer in Yokosuka, said one of the difficulties in resolving cases such as the woman's is the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, which prevents Japanese authorities from assuming sole jurisdiction.
"The problem is that we have a situation in which jurisdiction and the right to investigate lie both on the Japanese and American sides, creating a vacuum in which some victims cannot obtain legal redress," Goto said.
"Once they (the perpetrators) escape into the U.S. bases, it becomes very difficult for Japanese police to investigate, and if they return to the United States, it becomes even more difficult, so the victims often have to concede."
The Public Affairs Office of the commander of the U.S. Naval Forces in Japan confirmed the sailor was discharged in October 2002 and said the incident was treated as closed because Japanese authorities decided not to indict him and the navy also determined a court-martial was not warranted.
The office declined comment on the civil case, calling it a private matter between the plaintiff and the defendant.
Former U.S. Air Force Capt. Dorothy Mackey, allegedly a victim of multiple rapes and abuse by fellow military personnel, claimed it is "standard operating procedure" for the U.S. government and military "to hide, destroy or ignore evidence and protect its own military criminal members."
She also expressed disappointment with the Japanese prosecutors' decision not to charge the sailor in the Aussie woman's case, saying their actions "have resulted in leaving every person in Japan open to brutal attack" by U.S. service members.
Mackey, who runs a group in the U.S. called Survivors Take Action Against Abuse by Military Personnel, warned that rapists who go unpunished are likely to repeat the offenses.
The Australian, who is in her 40s and has lived in Japan for more than 20 years, also hopes to have Japan's laws and procedures changed so police can deal with rapes properly, ensuring, for example, that victims receive immediate medical attention.
When she went to Yokosuka police just after the assault, she wanted to go to a hospital immediately to be examined and treated for the injuries and bruises she had sustained over her body.
But she said police told her she had to go and look for the perpetrator and took her back to the parking lot where they had her explain everything that happened and asked her to re-enact the crime. When she refused, they had an officer play her part as she reluctantly directed.
"I knew they weren't going to help me. I wanted to pick up the phone inside the police office and call the police to ask them to come and get me out of there," she said.
A Japanese woman who was raped in Tokyo in 2002 by a man she did not know said she also went through what is often called a "second rape" by police.
She said a male officer told her she should not dress in a way that stimulates men, while a female officer tried to convince her to give up pursuing the case because the most she would get out of it was a two-year prison term for the assailant.
"They don't consider us as victims. It seems they look at it like, 'Oh well, you just had sexual intercourse.' They don't seem to understand the seriousness of this type of crime," said the woman, who ended up not pressing charges.
She said although the female officer was nicer to her than the male officer, it appeared she was under pressure from her male superiors to downplay the incident.
The victim said it would probably be better if there were more policewomen in senior positions who could take proactive roles in such cases.
The National Police Agency has drawn up policies for victim support, including efforts to help victims of sex crimes and to lessen their psychological burdens, and it has set up a support office in each prefectural force.
But it was only about 10 years ago that police set forth the policies, and the new approach is slow to change police practice on the ground.
"Police probes have traditionally centered on conducting investigations to find the culprit, so officers may not necessarily be used to paying attention to the victim's situation," said Nobuho Tomita, a professor of criminology and victimology at Tokiwa University.
"But the situation is gradually getting better and police are becoming more flexible," Tomita said, while noting the victim-support office will probably respond more positively to victims' needs than officers on duty at this stage.
The Australian pledged to keep fighting until she gets justice and expressed hope that more people will become concerned with situations like hers because, she warned, "The next victim could be you or your sister or your mother or someone you know."
The Japan Times: Feb. 17, 2006