Members of the U.S. military stationed in Japan are receiving almost no punishment for committing sexual assault, according to a new trove of Department of Defense documents revealed by the Associated Press Monday.
More than 1,000 records, obtained by the AP through a Freedom of Information Act request, reveal that military personnel accused of sex crimes were often not given jail time and instead received "light punishments" such as fines, demotions, restrictions to their bases or removal from the military.
According to AP, in about 30 cases a letter of reprimand was the only punishment.
The victims of these crimes include other military personnel as well as civilians living near the U.S. bases in Japan. The documents further reveal that a growing number of the victims of sexual assault are "dropping out of investigations" by either retracting the allegations or declining to cooperate further.
Of more than 620 serious sex-crime allegations against military personnel, at least 323 of the alleged victims also were in the military. Civilians were the accusers in 94 cases, but in nearly 200 cases the alleged victim's status was unclear. Among U.S. military sexual assault reports worldwide in the 2011-12 fiscal year, 2,949 of the 3,604 victims were service members, according to the department's annual report to Congress on sexual assault in the military.
The lack of punishment, according to the report, "pain[t] a disturbing picture of how senior American officers prosecute and punish troops accused of sex crimes," underscoring a recent push by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) for strong reforms within the military legal system.
Further, the data echos decades of accusations by Japanese civilians against U.S. military service members who, they say, have committed crimes such as rape with "impunity."
According to data compiled by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS), which handles the Navy and Marine Corps, "out of 473 Marines and sailors accused of sex offenses, 179 were given some punishment, and 68 went to prison."
Air Force data reveals that out of 124 members accused over five years, only 17 were incarcerated and 42 received some other punishment.
Further, "in 46 Marine cases and 22 Navy cases, those initially accused of a violent sex crime ended up being punished for nonviolent or nonsexual offenses. The most common such charges were assault, failure to obey orders, adultery, having sex in barracks and fraternization."