Women of vision

A Voice for Victims

    Australian expat Catherine Jane Fisher is leading a campaign that seeks justice for victims of sexual assault by US servicemen and base workers.

    Tens of thousands of people gathered in June to protest a crime that shocked the nation. Weeks earlier, police arrested a former US marine who was working at a military base in Okinawa. They believe he assaulted and murdered a 20-year-old Japanese woman.

    Catherine Jane Fisher traveled from Tokyo to join the rally. Years ago, she endured a similar attack.

    "I'm not ashamed to say I am a survivor of US military rape," she says.

    Fisher came to Japan with her family as a teenager. She worked as a model and English teacher, and raised 3 children.

    In 2002, everything changed when she was the victim of a horrific attack. She was visiting Yokosuka, south of Tokyo, where the US has a naval base. In the parking lot, she was raped by an American serviceman.

    For years she suffered from insomnia, flashbacks and other symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

    "I couldn't sleep at night. Even the slightest noise the slightest noise would scare me," Fisher says. "It would be very difficult for me to explain how a rape victim feels. What does PTSD feel like, you know? And how it destroys your life."

    The suspect was not indicted so Fisher filed a suit seeking compensation. During the trial, the serviceman returned to the US and disappeared.

    Fisher was furious that her attacker was able to leave the country without facing up to what he did. She spent 10 years tracking him down.

    Later, she filed a suit in the US and won. During that trial, she learned of shocking testimony by the rapist. He claimed he was told by a US Navy lawyer to leave Japan.

    Fisher began talking to groups in Okinawa Prefecture that support female victims. She discovered that violence against women by US servicemen and base workers was widespread.

    "Nothing has changed. There is still going refraining women in Japan," Fisher says.

    She started recording the cases, and she's convinced the situation won't change until the Status of Forces Agreement changes.

    The US-Japan Status of Forces Agreement applies to US military personnel and base workers in Japan. It says if US authorities detain a suspect first, they have the primary right to investigate.

    "Anybody who is thinking about doing a crime in Japan knows that they don't have to obey the law of Japan," Fisher says. "It only says respect. So they can walk out of this country freely. So we have to set certain rules which says, not only do you have to respect the laws of Japan, you have to obey them."

    US military officials reject the idea that the Status of Forces Agreement causes criminal activity. They say the US military does not tolerate sexual assault and has a policy that reinforces efforts to prevent it.

    Recently, Fisher launched a new campaign to highlight the scourge of violence against women.

    She went to a university in Okinawa to discuss the problem with students.

    "Why is it so difficult to follow Japanese law? It's not difficult, is it? We have to obey the law," she told them. "Why do US servicemen think it doesn't apply to them?"

    Fisher wants to set up a 24-hour rape crisis center that victims can visit, regardless of their gender or nationality. She asked the students for their help.

    "I have taken such a painful experience and made it into something very beautiful and powerful which will actually save people's lives," Fisher says.

    She believes that only by speaking out together can the victims of violence tear down the wall of silence that surrounds these awful crimes.