The Bigger Picture Behind the Okinawa "Incident"
John de Boer (University of Tokyo)
Japanese women continue to be exposed to the danger of violence around U.S. bases in Okinawa. Just last week another Japanese girl was raped by a U.S. soldier, this followed the gang raping of a 12-year-old Japanese schoolgirl by three U.S. military personnel in 1995. The most recent heinous crime was reported throughout the world in almost every major newspaper including the Times (July 6th), the Chicago Tribune (July 7th) and the Washington Post (July 4th). Most articles highlighted the implications of this "incident" on the U.S.-Japan security relationship, however, none of them gave any attention to the core issue, namely that of violence against women.
It is no wonder why women stand at the forefront of the anti-base struggle in Japan. In 1995, prior to the raping of the 12-year-old girl, seventy-one women from Okinawa participated in the Beijing Fourth UN World Conference on Women and NGO Forum and appealed against the violent nature of military forces. Their voices were heard and the movement has strengthened since then. In the wake of these crimes, the Japanese government and the U.S. military have been pressured by the media and Japanese society to provide security to the population immediately surrounding U.S. military installations. There is a definite need for the increased protection of citizens against such appalling crimes and the offenders need to be brought to justice. However, I have observed that comments on this incident have remained limited to the discussion of the general security concerns of Okinawans and to some extent focused on the "foreignness" of the perpetrators.
It is true that women are often sexually victimized and abused in areas of military occupation. However, violence against women extends far beyond situations of the military's abuse of power and occurs throughout society. Rather than being a manifestation of exceptional circumstances like the presence of foreign forces, what violence against women tends to reflect, but these articles do not touch upon, is the place that women's sexuality occupies in societies dominated by male privilege.
U.S. military bases in Japan form the cornerstone of Japan's policy of national security, however, Japanese women, and in particular those in Okinawa, seem to be suffering the consequences. This reality cannot be challenged by simply attempting to address the security concerns of those living in the vicinity of military bases, rather, the entire culture of tolerance towards the exploitation of women that prevails in most countries, including Japan, must be systematically attacked.
- Clay Chandler, "U.S. Voices Regret Over Japan Incident," Washington Post, July 4, 2001
- Robert Whymant, "Japanese call on US to hand over rape suspect," The Times, July 6, 2001
- Uli Schmetzer, "American sergeant in Japan's custody," Chicago Tribune, July 7, 2001