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Okinawa rape revives opposition to American bases

Although another American serviceman has been charged with sexual assault in Okinawa, provoking outrage among the local population and putting the large and controversial US military presence on the island back in the headlines, fear of China appears to have combined with a phenomenon that may be termed “base fatigue” to mute popular anger.

As reported by the Japanese press, airman Brennon Washington, age 25, found a teenage girl in a park on the night of December 24, 2023, convinced her to get into his car and then drove back to his residence, where he raped her. The girl was under the age of 16, which has been the age of consent in Japan since June 2023, when it was raised from 13.

A person related to the girl called the police after the incident. Washington was identified from images taken by security cameras. The US Air Force confirmed the identification and said he was off duty at the time. On March 27, Washington was indicted on charges of nonconsensual sexual intercourse and kidnapping.

The Japanese Foreign Ministry was informed of the indictment on the same day and made a formal complaint to US Ambassador to Japan Rahm Emanuel. However, the Okinawa prefectural government did not find out about the incident and the news media did not report it until June 25.

On June 16, candidates supported by Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) won a majority of seats in the Okinawa prefectural assembly. They defeated a coalition of leftist parties backing Governor Denny Tamaki, whose has built his career on opposition to the US military bases in Okinawa.

On June 23, Kishida attended the ceremony marking the 79th anniversary of the end of the Battle of Okinawa, which was held at the Peace Memorial Park