What would happen if there was a highly organized group of people in a U.S. state that was responsible for more than 100 crimes per year on average? What if a member of that group was likely responsible for the rape of a 14-year-old junior high school girl? What if another member was responsible for another rape only a few weeks later?
What if, about thirteen years before, several members of that group were responsible for the gang rape of an elementary school girl?
This is not a made-up situation. The only difference from what is stated above is that the setting is not a U.S. state, but the Japanese prefecture of Okinawa—and the group is the U.S. Marines.
Last month’s rape of a 14-year-old girl, and then the rape of a Filipino woman four days later, both allegedly by U.S. service members, have set local residents on edge and have led to renewed calls for the removal of all U.S. bases.
On Feb. 15, a huge demonstration, called by women’s groups, teachers’ and other unions, and medical professionals, took to the streets demanding justice.
“As a woman, I feel scared,” said a 25 year old bartender who works in the area where the incident occurred.
The alleged perpetrator was freed after the victim’s family decided not to prosecute. The girl was fearful of being involved in such a high profile case.
“Crimes occur wherever U.S. bases are located,” said Ichida Tadayoshi, leader of the Japanese Communist Party, citing the murder of a woman and an attempted murder of another woman in 2006, and a 2007 rape of a woman all in the areas of U.S. bases.
Tomon Mitsuko, the mayor of Okinawa City, said that there was a long list of other crimes committed by U.S. troops and that she had called on the U.S. military to tighten its discipline—and nothing had been done.
As of press time a curfew has been imposed on U.S. bases, but since Feb. 11, more crimes have been committed in Okinawa. A 54-year-old woman found Cpl. Shawn Cowdy sleeping on a sofa in her house at 4 a.m., Feb. 18. The 21-year-old corporal said he was drunk and had no memory of how he got there. A day before, another marine was arrested for drunk driving.
A day after Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, of the pro-U.S. right wing Liberal Democratic Party, and U.S. Ambassador Thomas Schieffer vowed to crack down on crime, a drunken soldier climbed over a fence, broke a glass door with a pipe and trespassed on the property of a local construction firm.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice had to express “deep regret” on the Okinawa rape, while on a trip to Japan. U.S. officials have promised to take action.
But, “the unusual privileges that U.S. forces are given under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) can be a source of the serious crimes being committed repeatedly,” wrote the Japanese newspaper, Akahata.
Since 1951, there have been over 200,000 accidents and crimes committed by U.S. soldiers in Japan, resulting in the deaths of over 1,000 Japanese citizens. Because of agreements made in the SOFA, virtually none of them have been prosecuted. There are currently more than 33,000 U.S. soldiers in Japan, and the Japanese government pays about $2 billion annually to support them.
Echoing tens of thousands of citizens, elected officials and others, Nakama Yoshishige, who runs a local pharmacy, said “I am really fed up with this. As long as U.S. bases exist, this will never end.”
Japan Press Service contributed to this story.