TOKYO — A U.S. Marine based in Okinawa, Japan, has admitted he tried to rape a Japanese woman, in the most recent sex crime that fueled resentment of American military personnel stationed in the country.
Lance Cpl. Jordan Begaye, 22, has been accused of attempting to rape the woman after forcibly pulling her out of her driver’s seat in a parking lot on the Japanese island’s Naha City in October. He choked and hit the woman multiple times in the face and caused injuries that required a week of medical treatment, Japanese national broadcaster NHK reported.
The Marine admitted to attempting to rape and injuring the woman in an Okinawan court on Monday, a day after U.S. President Joe Biden landed in Japan to reaffirm bilateral ties. In mitigation of Begaye’s sentence, his defense said he was under a great deal of emotional strain after losing his grandfather and younger brother, and committed the crime because he drank a lot of alcohol and lost his judgment.
“Although he assaulted the plaintiff, he did not commit any indecent acts, and he has shown remorse,” a lawyer representing Begaye also said, according to NHK, although Japanese prosecutors said Begaye had followed another woman earlier that same evening in an attempt to attack her, too.
A verdict is expected on Thursday. If found guilty, Begaye faces a minimum sentence of six years in prison.
The case followed years of sex crimes committed by U.S. military service members stationed on Japan’s southernmost island, which have been repeatedly condemned by the local government.
“It must never be forgiven, and we feel intense anger,” Denny Tamaki, Okinawa’s governor and a vocal critic of the U.S. bases, said in April after prosecutors disclosed Begaye’s case to the public.
Tamaki said the pattern of gender-based violence showed the U.S. military’s education and management systems in Okinawa are “extremely inadequate.”
Japan’s southernmost island is an important strategic foothold for the United States, serving as a hub for strategic military operations throughout the Pacific since the end of World War II. The island of 1.4 million people hosts about 26,000 U.S. service members.
But the U.S. military facilities in Okinawa have also been the center of criticism. Okinawans have long complained about shouldering the burden of hosting 70 percent of all U.S. military facilities in Japan even as the prefecture accounts for just 0.6 percent of the country’s land mass. A recent poll found that 61 percent of Okinawan residents want to cut the number of U.S. bases on the island.
The U.S. military, which has 32 facilities in Okinawa, has faced numerous accusations of failing to hold its troops accountable for gender-based violence. In its most recent report published in 2016, the civic group Okinawan Women Act Against Military Violence found 350 cases of alleged sex crimes commited by American troops since the end of WWII. The group suspects far more go unreported.
“We’ve come to understand that if there’s an American base, then these crimes are bound to happen,” said Miwako Ueyonahara, managing director of Okinawa Women’s Foundation, a women’s support group.
In one of the most shocking cases, in September 1995, three U.S. servicemen stationed in Okinawa raped a 12-year-old Japanese schoolgirl, leading to nationwide protests and a call to remove bases in the prefecture.