Boy’s death leads to new abuse reporting system
Stars and Stripes August 15, 2009
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — On a cold day in November 2006, a young American boy was spotted wandering shoeless and shirtless a few blocks from his home in Uruma, in central Okinawa.
He was stopped by an Okinawa woman who noticed he appeared to be badly bruised. She called Okinawa police and Uruma city officials, but no one contacted prefectural or military officials who handle suspected child abuse cases.
Five months later, the boy, Jordan Peterson, 8, died in his off-base home of massive internal bleeding. His stepfather, Roberto DeLeon, 27, faces charges of assault and murder in U.S. District Court in Baltimore. His trial is set for Oct. 5.
Okinawa officials say Jordan’s tragic death led to a new system for reporting abuse allegations involving Americans living in the Japanese community.
The lack of a formal reporting system had been a hindrance in getting children the help they needed, said Mamoru Maeshiro, chief of the Child Upbringing Team of the Okinawa Department of Children and Families.
During a recent interview in his Naha office, Maeshiro said such children often fell through the cracks of the military and Japanese child welfare systems.
In the wake of the Jordan Peterson incident, Okinawa and military child welfare authorities in 2007 established a communication channel between the two communities, he said. Family Advocacy on Camp Foster was designated the point of contact for Okinawa agencies.
“It was a great improvement,” Maeshiro said. “Prior to the arrangement, contacting military officials was not possible unless and until we could figure out which branch of the service the child’s parent belonged to.”
“It has often been a daunting task for us to obtain information directly from American families, who are not necessarily always cooperative,” said Nobuyoshi Miyagi, director of the Koza Center for Child Welfare in Okinawa City.
The Marine Corps on Okinawa has thrown itself into the new role, according to information provided by the Consolidated Public Affairs Office of Marine Corps Bases Japan.
“In the fall of 2007 the Family Advocacy Program Manager made a focused effort to reach out to local Japanese social welfare agencies,” the office said in response to a Stars and Stripes query.
Okinawa agencies were given an on-call phone number for the three staff members of the Marine Family Advocacy Program who are fluent in Japanese.
Marine family advocacy officials now hold regular meetings with their counterparts on Okinawa and provide tours of base facilities to show how the military investigates such reports and what therapeutic and supportive services are available, according to the Marine response.
Servicemembers found to have committed acts of domestic violence are treated according to military regulations and can face disciplinary actions ranging from counseling to court-martial.
“When the perpetrator is a civilian, the actions the command can pursue range from professional counseling, debarring the perpetrator from the military installation or, in extreme cases, forwarding the case to the Department of Justice for prosecution under federal law,” the Marine Corps said.
According to data the prefecture released in June, in the past 10 years Okinawa social welfare agencies have received 25 reports involving American children. About 11,900 Americans on Okinawa under the U.S.-Japan Status of Forces Agreement live in off-base housing.
Okinawa officials cite one report of child abuse involving an American so far this year. There was one case in 2008 and four in 2007, just before the new arrangement went into effect.
The Okinawa prefectural government keeps track of each case reported to the Welfare Center for Children, Maeshiro said.
“Through the channel established after the 2006 [Peterson] case, two-way communications became possible,” he said. “However, if there is a need for emergency protection, we can take protective custody of the child.”
Maeshiro pointed to two cases in which American children were taken into protective custody at the Koza Center for Child Welfare between 2000 and 2004.
“Of the six cases after 2007, however, we did not see any imminent need to take any action before we reported to [military] family advocacy,” he said.