In the wake of recent press reports about the junior high school student allegedly raped by a US marine, there have been many angry foreign residents of Japan complaining that the Japanese media are making this into a bigger deal than it is; that rapes occur every day and that the media would not respond as zealously should it have been a Japanese national accused of this crime. There have been cries that this type of media reaction ultimately boils down to xenophobia and they also fail to forget the “innocent until proven guilty” law.
However, although it can be said that the Japanese media harangue suspects before they are tried, many forget that this US military rape issue is on a wider scale. Firstly, there are political implications – the Okinawan officials have voiced their anger and Prime Minister Fukuda, appearing before a Diet committee Tuesday, described the incident as “unforgivable.” For anti-base Okinawans, such incidents are important in the campaign to get Tokyo either to ask the US to leave, or get more compensation for carrying the military burden: 70% of US military personnel in Japan are in Okinawa.
The issue is also historical. This new case has rekindled memories of the 1995 gang rape of a 12-year-old Okinawa girl by three US servicemen, an incident that triggered mass resentment against the US military presence in Okinawa. The problem was that the US military was not made by law to hand over the suspected rapist to Japanese authorities and the struggle that the Japanese police faced in the handover caused outrage from Japan. The US marines refused to handover rape suspects unless they are indicted and this refusal could be seen time and time again through the many rape cases that Okinawa has faced throughout the years and gives the impression that the US forces would overtly protect their troops regardless of morals. Similarly, when a US army helicopter crashed in to Okinawa International University a few years ago, local police were not allowed to be involved in the investigation.
This time, the US forces have announced that a task force will review and reinforce its sexual harassment and assault prevention programs but cleaning up the reputation of the US forces in Japan will be near impossible should a repetition of cases like these continue.
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