The Japan News by The Yomiuri Shimbun
Okinawa Pref. helps women involved with U.S. servicemen
NAHA — The Okinawa prefectural government has launched a campaign to help women who are having problems in their relationships with U.S. military personnel. In addition to language barriers, there are also systemic hurdles involved in resolving disputes with partners from “within the fence” of a U.S. base. The prefectural government has opened a special consultation service, and is also calling on the U.S. military to cooperate on serious cases such as those involving domestic violence.
EXPERT ADVICE NEEDED
“I wish I’d gotten concrete advice from a public office at that time,” said a woman in her 40s who was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-military husband several years ago.
She married a marine after 2½ years of dating. Her husband left the military after the birth of their second child, and began to yell at and physically abuse her and their children.
The woman visited a domestic violence counseling center run by the local government many times with her two young children, but she could not get useful advice because the staff did not have enough expertise regarding the U.S. military and legal system.
About one month later, she found that her husband had started a new family in another country where he was on assignment. He left Japan without her being able to discuss divorce or child support with him.
At a consultation counter set up in the town office of Chatan, Okinawa Prefecture, a curtain covers the door to ensure privacy. The prefectural government opened the consultation service center in Chatan, which is home to Kadena Air
Base and other U.S. bases, in January to help women who are having problems with U.S. military personnel.
A vacant room on the first floor of the town office is used as the “international family welfare consultation center.” Two support coordinators stationed at the center provide free consultations on issues such as divorce, child support claims and domestic violence.
By March, the office had received nine consultations from women, including a woman who said, “My husband is too intimidating and I can’t discuss things with him.”
Misaki Smith, 44, of Women’s Pride, an international domestic affairs support group that acts as an intermediary at the request of the prefecture, accompanied one woman to a U.S. military facility. A U.S. senior officer also attended the meeting to discuss a divorce.
The woman, who has not received child support from her husband in another country, said, “I want people with expertise to provide advice and detailed support, such as taking care of children when there are things that mothers do not want children to hear.”
MOTIVATED BY MURDER
The prefectural government’s decision to set up the center was spurred by an incident two years ago in which a U.S. Navy man allegedly killed a woman in the same town and then committed suicide. The two had a history of relationship problems, and the U.S. military had taken steps to keep the man away from the woman.
According to the prefectural police, there were 11 cases of domestic violence against women by U.S. military personnel in 2016, and seven to 10 cases each year between 2017 and 2020.
Viewing the situation gravely, the prefectural government decided to set up the center, saying it was essential to have a place where women could discuss their problems, as well as to coordinate with the U.S. military.
The prefectural government has also approached the U.S. military to seek cooperation, focusing on serious cases such as domestic violence and abuse. “We want to work with the U.S. military’s support organizations to establish a system to protect women in the prefecture,” a prefectural official said.
RESPONDING AT NIGHT
In Okinawa, where 70% of U.S. military facilities are concentrated, many women live off-base with U.S. military spouses. Yuka Kai, 43, the director of an unlicensed nursery school in Chatan, has come into contact with many military personnel who pick up their children with their spouses, showing abundant expressions of affection.
“When we get away from politics and accidents [involving U.S. military personnel], both people related to the U.S. military and prefectural residents are important members of the community. I hope we can build a symbiotic relationship,” Kai said.
However, there are many cases in which military personnel are transferred back home and divorces become complicated.
Smith, who has worked in the private sector for the past 15 years, has received about 750 consultations of this kind.
“Conventional government offices and law firms lacked knowledge of the U.S. military and the U.S. legal system, so people seeking help were shuffled around,” she said.
There is also a systemic complication in that only family members can consult with the U.S. military’s legal department.
The prefectural office is only open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
“Single mothers who work during the day are especially worried at night. If the prefectural government is only open during office hours, it won’t be able to hear the voices of women in need,” Smith said, calling for the expansion of the service.
REVIEW OF AGREEMENT SOUGHT
In Okinawa, many women married U.S. military personnel during the 27year period of U.S. control after World War II. Even after Okinawa’s reversion to Japan in 1972, a vast extent of land continued to be used for U.S. military bases.
Some U.S. facilities were returned to Japan in the 2010s, but about 25,000 military personnel remained stationed in Okinawa (figures for 2012 onward have not been released). Many Japanese women in Okinawa Prefecture continue to marry U.S. servicemen.
Okinawa Gov. Denny Tamaki was born to a U.S. serviceman and a woman from the prefecture in 1959. He has written that his father was ordered to return to the United States while his mother was pregnant, and he was temporarily raised by another woman instead of his mother, who lived at her workplace.
According to the prefectural government, 80% of 396 international marriages in the prefecture in 2017 were between Japanese wives and foreign husbands.
In contrast, such marriages accounted for 30% of international unions nationwide in the same year, indicating that the figure for Okinawa Prefecture is influenced by marriages with U.S. military personnel.
Financial struggles after couples break up have also become an issue.
The Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement does not have a clear provision on garnishing U.S. military personnel’s wages, even if there is trouble over the payment of child support. Okinawa Prefecture has been calling since the year 2000 for a review of the agreement so that wages can be garnished when so ordered by a Japanese court. (May 3)