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  • Darren Heigel

Violence Against Okinawans [2]

This is the second installment of my CULTURE Society article series discussing the issue of physical and sexual violence against women of the island prefecture of Okinawa, Japan. In my last article, I wrote of the historical circumstances that worked together to create the current situation in Okinawa. We will now shift our focus to the undeniable relationship between the American military and sex crimes in East Asia.

The arrival of the American military immediately changed the lives of the Ryukyu people, especially women. The unbalanced power dynamic of the imperial control of the Americans, mixed with an increased pervasive fetishization of Asian women in the west, led to U.S. servicemembers committing horrific sex crimes on the female population of the island. The American military has released reports of some of the most heinous crimes, unfortunately though, many of the sex crimes go unreported, unnoticed, or just outright covered up.

The United States Military is no stranger to unethical sexual behaviors in Asia. During the Vietnam War, United States personnel would actively vet and arrange for soldiers to have easy access to prostitutes in Vietnam, the Philippines, and Thailand through programs that were facilities named “Rest and Recreation” facilities.

This tie between the American military and Asian sex workers is ineffably linked to human trafficking. In 2002 the United States Army was accused of facilitating human trafficking in South Korea’s Red-Light District, by providing armed protection to brothels suspected of employing victims of sex trafficking.

Ultimately, the claims of “protection” were alleged to have been false according to the Inspector General’s investigation, however, he admitted that the relationship between the army and the Red-Light District was “overly familiar”. With the track record of the military in situations such as this, I would call to question the objectivity and honesty of the I.G.’s investigation.

So now I turn the lens on Okinawa. There is a history of systemic sex violence that continues to this day that began shortly after the United States’ occupation. There are many documented cases that were too horrific for the United States to cover up, the most infamous being the 1995 Okinawa Rape Incident. On September 4th, 1995, three United States servicemen kidnapped, raped, and murdered a 12-year-old Okinawan girl. This prompted a huge public outcry and made international news. Native Okinawans let loose decades of pain in a string of anti-American protests and sought to put pressure on the Japanese government to lessen the influence of the U.S. military. Unfortunately, the influence and control of the U.S. on the island were not really diminished.

Based on all of this, I pose the questions: how has life changed for Okinawan women since the American occupation began? What concerns and precautions do they take in their day-to-day life to protect themselves from sexual violence? What are the U.S. and Japan doing to protect Okinawan women? Finding the answers will be the topic of discussion for the next installment of this series.

- Darren Heigel, CULTURE Society Incorporated

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