The US military is once again affected by the revelation of a sex scandal after US Navy Criminal Investigation Service (NCIS) records uncovered undisclosed US military sex crimes in Okinawa.
The naval agency investigated at least eight sexual offenses committed by US military forces against Japanese women in Okinawa between 2017 and 2019, but none of them have been reported to Congress or the public.
The perpetrators had not been punished under Japanese law and their cases had not appeared in the annual reports produced by the Pentagon’s Office of Sexual Assault Prevention and Response to the US Congress, according to the organization. American press nonprofit Intercept.
Co-chair of the feminist group Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence and chair of the Rape Emergency Counseling Center Okinawa, Suzuyo Takazato, says this is a familiar role model.
“The US and Japanese governments want to minimize awareness of the number of crimes committed by the US military in Okinawa. They believe that if this information becomes public, it will harm US-Japan relations. They believe the US-Japan relationship should take priority over the rights of Okinawans. ”
The US military’s sex crimes come to light amid public anger and resentment towards US military forces in Okinawa.
A survey of residents conducted by the Japanese public broadcaster, NHK, showed that 26% of Japanese respondents called for all US bases to be removed from their island, and 51% wanted them reduced to a level equivalent to that from mainland Japan.
Okinawa, Japan’s poorest prefecture, reluctantly hosts 31 US military bases, which occupy about 15% of the main island. Although the prefecture represents less than one percent of Japan’s total land mass, it owns 70 percent of the country’s US facilities; 11 of the Okinawa bases belong to the US Marine Corps.
Consolidating so many military installations on Okinawa, according to the Intercept, concentrates many problems there: plane crashes, environmental contamination and crime, especially against women.
Takazato and members of the Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence say they discovered the first sexual assaults that began shortly after the American invasion of Okinawa in 1945 and has continued unabated to the present day.
They said the total number of US military rape victims rose to hundreds, but “many cases remain hidden.”
“Purely cosmetic changes”
In mainland Japan and abroad, people know only a few of these crimes, including the rape of a 12-year-old girl by three US servicemen in 1995 and the rape and murder of a woman. 20 years old by a former Marine in 2016.
The events sparked massive protests from tens of thousands of Okinawans demanding a review of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement, or SOFA, but nothing happened as the U.S. and Japan only promised to make improvements to SOFA, changes that turned out to be just cosmetic.
The failure of the US military and Japanese civilian justice systems to deliver justice to women sexually assaulted by US servicemen on the island comes as SOFA grants military jurisdiction to servicemen who commit offenses in the line of duty.
It only demands that the suspects be turned over to Japanese authorities after charges have been laid.
Such loopholes have allowed the US military to unilaterally determine what constitutes “service” and have hampered the ability of the Japanese police to question suspects.
Reports also say that many American perpetrators are escaping justice as many rape victims fail to come forward and tell Okinawa police that they are unwilling to participate in investigations.
Takazato said, “Okinawa is a haven for US servicemen who want to sexually assault women. They have a mentality that they won’t be punished here, and they think Okinawan women don’t report sexual assault.
She noted that “when it comes to sex crimes, this victim blame extends throughout the Japanese justice system. But it’s even worse for the victims of the US military. Because authorities prioritize the relationship between Japan and the United States over the rights of Okinawans, prosecutors are refusing cases in which the accused is a US serviceman.