SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Two U.S. Navy sailors were arrested Tuesday for the alleged rape and assault of an Okinawan woman, an incident that could further inflame anti-American sentiment on the island.
Okinawa Prefectural Police said they arrested Seaman Christopher Browning and Petty Officer 3rd Class Skyler Dozierwalker, both 23, after the alleged incident was reported to police by an acquaintance of the alleged victim.
The alleged victim, who according to media reports is in her 20s, told police she was walking home from work in central Okinawa between 3:35 a.m. and 4:20 a.m. when the men followed, assaulted and raped her, police said. A U.S. Navy official said the incident allegedly took place in the parking lot of her apartment building.
The woman also suffered minor injuries to her neck, police said.
During their investigation, police said, they learned that two “foreigners” who fit the description of the attackers were staying at a nearby hotel and had returned to the hotel in the morning.
Browning was arrested around 7:30 a.m. at the hotel, but police were unable to identify Dozierwalker as the other suspect at that time. He was taken to a police station for voluntary questioning where he admitted to committing the crime, they said.
The sailors told police they were scheduled to return to America on Tuesday morning, according to police officials, who were unable to provide details of how long the men had been in Okinawa or what they were doing there.
Japanese media reported that both men had been drinking alcohol before the incident.
Japanese authorities have primary jurisdiction but Naval Criminal Investigative Service is assisting in the investigation, Commander Naval Forces Japan spokesman Jon Nylander said. Police said they planned to send the case to the Okinawa Public Prosecutor’s Office in Naha on Wednesday.
The alleged incident comes at a time when relations between the Okinawan public and the U.S. military were already strained over the recent arrival of the controversial MV-22 Osprey aircraft. For months, the U.S. and Japanese governments have been trying to assuage Okinawans’ fears over the safety of the Marine Corps aircraft, which has been called into question following two major accidents. Despite those fears — and protests, which have drawn crowds into the tens-of-thousands — the U.S. deployed the hybrid helicopter-airplane to its Futenma air station earlier this month.
To many, the U.S. military has been an unwelcome guest on the island, especially following the abduction and rape of a 12-year-old schoolgirl at the hands of three U.S. servicemembers in 1995.
Additionally, those on the island believe the Japanese government has placed an unfair burden on them because Okinawa is home to more than half of all U.S. troops in Japan — 28,000 of 52,000— despite being one of the country’s smallest prefectures. Plans to ease some of that burden by removing some 9,000 Marines from the island have been hung up for years by governmental bureaucracy.
Japanese government officials quickly reacted to the news of this week’s alleged rape.
Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Shuji Kira lodged a diplomatic protest and expressed “strong regret” to U.S. Ambassador John Roos, according to a statement. Roos pledged to cooperate with the Japanese investigation.
“The United States Government is extremely concerned by recent allegations of misconduct by two individual United States servicemembers,” Roos said in a statement. “We are committed to cooperating fully with the Japanese authorities in their investigation… These allegations, given their seriousness, will continue to command my full personal attention.”
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima was in Tokyo on Wednesday to discuss his opposition to the deployment of the Osprey when he heard about the alleged rape, a Military Base Affairs Division spokesman said. He was scheduled to meet with Kira and Roos to ask them to take measures to prevent such incidents.
There were no reports of protests on the island on Wednesday, but Okinawan officials said that calls have started trickling in from all over Japan expressing concern at the savage nature of the reported crime.