Reaction to the Verdict in Okinawa
John de Boer (University of Tokyo)
US Airforce staff sergeant Timothy Woodland was sentenced to 32 months in jail this past week for raping a 24 year old Okinawan girl in a Naha parking lot back in June 2001. The sentence fell slightly short of what the prosecution had requested. Nevertheless they claimed that they were relatively satisfied with the verdict. Sgt. Woodland reacted with dizziness and requested that he be permitted to sit down. This judgement was covered widely by the international press with certain reports highlighting the views of some Okinawa residents towards the verdict and indicating that the main problem was the existence of 26,000 US troops on Okinawan soil who enjoyed relative impunity. The portrayal was that this was one victory for a people who have often felt powerless against the mighty US military.
Judge Soichi Hayashida of the Naha District Court presided over the case and rendered the 32 month sentence based on the judgment that "it was nothing but rape and the crime is horrendous. The accused shows no signs of remorse. Therefore it is only natural that a heavy punishment be sought". After the verdict was handed down reporters took to the streets to hear what the residents of Okinawa felt about the judgement. In the process, the international media discovered that most of whom they interviewed felt that the verdict was too light considering the gravity of the crime and the lack of repentance on the part of the perpetrator. The Japan Times quoted a 50 year old T-shirt shop owner in Okinawa saying that she was not happy with the sentence, "the verdict is too lenient. He should have gotten a heavier sentence because such sex-related crimes involving US personnel are always happening" ("Airman gets 32 months for rape in Okinawa" March 29). According to Komako Akai of the Associated Press rape convictions in Japan carry prison sentences of two to fifteen years, however, sentences of five years or more are hardly handed down ("US Airman convicted of rape in Japan", March 27). After hearing the verdict a 16 year old Japanese high school girl exclaimed, "I cannot believe the verdict it was too short. What does he do afterward? Go back to the States?" (Japan Times, March 29).
Overall the sentiment reflected was a sense of powerlessness on the part of local residents. The BBC reported a claim that stated, "local people always stand in the weaker position when they were involved in a crime to do with the US military". A twenty year old Naha resident confessed that many felt powerless as she disclosed to the BBC that "she had a friend who had also been raped by a US serviceman but didn't to come forward to the police" and admitted that "she was afraid this could happen to anyone" ("Okinawa welcomes rape verdict", 28 March).
These responses point to the lack of protection and respect afforded to local residents of Okinawa under the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) between the US and Japanese governments. The Okinawa Prefectural Assembly has requested that the SOFA be revised, however, the national government has failed to respond. It is essential that the Japanese government stand up for the rights of its citizens and work to protect them. For if it is true that sex-related crimes involving US personnel are always happening, these cases need to be brought to justice.
- Howard W. French, "Airman's Rape Conviction Fans Okinawa's Ire Over US Bases", The New York Times, March 29, 2002
- "Airman gets 32 months for rape in Okinawa", The Japan Times, March 29, 2002
- Miriam Donohoe, "US Airman is jailed in Japan for raping woman", Irish Times, March 29, 2002
- George Nishiyama, "US Airman gets 32 months jail for Okinawa rape", Reuters, March 29, 2002
- "US Airman jailed for Okinawa rape", BBC, March 28, 2002
- "Okinawa welcomes rape verdict", BBC, March 28, 2002