Members of the U.S. military serving at its largest international base go largely unpunished for committing sexual abuse, further highlighting a need for reform in how such cases are handled.
The Associated Press combed through more than 1,000 recorded cases of abuse at involving military members serving in Japan from 2005 to 2013 and found that military courts' methods of dealing with the crime "verged on the chaotic, with seemingly strong cases often reduced to lesser charges."
In two rape cases, commanders overruled recommendations to court-martial and dropped the charges instead. Even when military authorities agreed a crime had been committed, the suspect was unlikely to serve time. Of 244 service members whose punishments were detailed in the records, only a third of them were incarcerated.
The AP notes several patterns that emerged from their investigation. The Marines were more likely to send guilty parties to prison, and the Air Force was least likely to do so. According to the data, only 15 sailors and 17 airmen were sentenced to jail-time for sex crimes. In the Air Force, 21 offenders only received letters of reprimand for charges of guilt. Often, those accused of violent crimes were punished for less serious offenses, like failure to obey orders or adultery.
Furthermore, while in the U.S., reporting of sexual abuse cases has increased, on the Japanese base victims were more likely to recant their allegations over the years. In the U.S., 68 percent of reported sexual assault cases were taken to courts-martial -- while only 24 percent of sexual abuses cases within the Navy and Marine Corps were brought before the military court.
The report follows last month's revelation that several high-ranking U.S. officers were investigated for personal misconduct, including sexual assault. Both incidents could provide support for a proposal, heralded by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, to mandate that sex crimes be tried in civilian courts.
The proposal has been consistently denounced in legislative moves to prevent rape in the military, and was not included in December's defense bill, which offered other reforms on the treatment of these delicate cases. The bill bars military commanders from having the authority to overturn jury convictions and would mandate that anyone convicted of sexual assault face dishonorable discharge or dismissal.