In The Courts

Milwaukee Rape Ruling Bolsters Victims in Japan

Thursday, December 12, 2013

News of a ruling in Milwaukee broke in late November in favor of Catherine Fisher's 12-year legal struggle. "This victory is not only for her, but also for other victims of sexual violence by U.S. military personnel," said one women's rights advocate.

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Catherine Fisher
Catherine Jane Fisher at a Japanese press conference.

 

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TOKYO (WOMENSENEWS)--A 12-year battle for justice took an enormous financial, emotional and physical toll, says Catherine Jane Fisher.

But for the Australian teacher of English and mother of three, it's time to savor a landmark court victory.

"This is the first time in history that any victim has been able to take a verdict from another country and have it endorsed in the United States," Fisher said at her home in Tokyo. Fisher said the verdict brings hope to victims of rape and other crimes committed by the U.S. servicemen in Japan.

Riyochi Hattori, a Social Democratic Party lawmaker, agrees.

"The military was unwilling to take any responsibility for this criminal act," he said in a recent phone interview. "Most Japanese, except in Okinawa, where the majority of the U.S. military is based, don't even know about Fisher's battle for justice. Nevertheless, the verdict shows that there is a way to get justice. It is the first step and the beginning of a new era."

On Oct. 15 the Milwaukee District Court in Wisconsin enforced a 2004 Japanese civil court judgment, which ordered former military serviceman Bloke Deans to pay $30,000 to Fisher in damages for rape.

The Japanese courts had been unable to enforce the ruling and Fisher never received compensation from Deans. He did not face criminal prosecution in Japan or the United States.

Unlike criminal law, which emphasizes punishment rather than dispute resolution, civil law cases concern disputes in which compensation may be awarded to the victim.

Deans denied that the rape occurred but Japan's civil court disagreed, stating in its ruling: "The Defendant (Deans), in the middle of the night on April 6, 2002, committed sexual intercourse with the Plaintiff (Fisher) against her will in the automobile parked in the parking lot." (The lot is near the Yokosuka Naval Base.)

Positive Reactions

Women's rights activists in Japan are hailing the Milwaukee court decision.

"This victory is not only for her, but also for other victims of sexual violence by U.S. military personnel," said Hisako Motoyama, executive director of the Asia-Japan Women's Resource Center, in an interview in Tokyo. "I admire her tireless effort to pursue justice."

Motoyama was particularly upset by something Deans told the Milwaukee court: The U.S. Navy had ordered him to leave Japan despite Navy legal officers and Deans knowing of the Japanese court case against Deans.

The U.S. military has made no immediate comment on the statement, according to the Japan Times.

Fisher's lawyer, Chris Hanewicz, who took the case pro bono, said the U.S. Navy did not inform the Japanese court or Fisher that Deans had been ordered to depart Japan prior to the court hearing in Japan and issued Deans an honorable discharge.

The U.S. Navy investigated the case and determined there was insufficient evidence to prosecute.

Japanese officials have been low-keyed about the case.

"The (Japanese) government has no comment on the U.S. court sentencing," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said recently at a press conference in Tokyo. "We will communicate with the United States, in order to ensure that victims receive the adequate compensation in a timely manner."

Fisher said she accepted $1 as compensation, knowing that Deans did not have any assets.

"I did not want to take that chance of losing everything and knew that it would be very difficult to collect the money from Deans," she said. "So my attorneys and the defendant's lawyer went into a settlement where upon if the judge agreed to endorse my Japanese winning court verdict in the U.S. then I would sacrifice, forfeit the money awarded to me in Japan, in exchange for the verdict ruling in my favor."

Failure to Punish

Fisher still wants Deans and those who protected him to be punished. "It is unacceptable to fail to punish the authorities who gave up that responsibility by obstructing my justice and instead harbored the rapist and allowed him to walk a free man in the U.S.," she told Women's eNews. "I have never been informed why my case was not allowed criminal justice. I still want him to be criminally prosecuted…I still want to see Deans criminally tried."

Fisher said she sought help from both governments to help her find Deans but received none. After she undertook her own investigation she received an email in 2010 from a woman in the United States claiming that Deans had raped her too and that he was living in Milwaukee.

Lawmaker Hattori added that media attention to rape trials is rare in Japan. News of the Milwaukee court's decision was buried on page 14 of Japan's major newspaper, the Asahi Shimbun, when the verdict was released to the press in late November.

Hiroko Inokuma, a writer and professor at Tokyo City University, said few sex assault charges against U.S. military people go anywhere. "In Japan almost all of these crimes are not prosecuted," she said in an interview in Tokyo. "The situation is that many women, including girls, have become resigned to this state of affairs."

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