The court-martial of Airman 1st Class Nathaniel N.F. DaSilva sheds light on the challenges military officials face in preventing improper interaction between young servicemembers and the teenagers that live close by.
Officials say the transition from teenager to adult can be difficult for some servicemembers to handle — especially when they are just out of high school.
Before deliberation Wednesday, DaSilva’s attorney, Capt. Maxwell Smart, asked the jury to consider that DaSilva was only a few years older than the victims.
"This is not some middle-aged man taking advantage of young girls," Smart said. "He was a foolish young man, who made a stupid, youthful decision, mistake."
Officials with the 18th Wing at Kadena say they have taken measures to help curb interaction with teens, such as posting signs in dorms prohibiting people under 18 and briefing first-term airmen on the legal age of consent.
Wing spokesman Maj. John Hutcheson said the base also offers parenting classes and recreation activities to keep kids occupied and out of trouble.
Hutcheson said Wednesday’s sentencing shows just how seriously the military regards incidents of inappropriate conduct with children.
"This court-martial and the resulting sentence reflect this wing’s commitment to holding this airman accountable for his crimes," he said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes on Wednesday evening. "The Uniform Code of Military Justice empowers commanders to do just this."
Under the UCMJ, the legal age of consent is 16. Anyone younger cannot legally agree to have sex, so such conduct is a crime even if there is no force, Lt. Cmdr. James Mills, the military justice department head at Yokosuka Naval Base’s Region Legal Service Office, told Stripes in March.
The office, which handles cases from naval bases across the region, has prosecuted five cases involving sexual assaults of minors in the past few years, with charges ranging from carnal knowledge — the military equivalent of statutory rape — to indecent acts with a child.
None involved force. All resulted in convictions, Mills said.
"The message needs to be they can consent, and we will still convict you," Mills said. "All we have to prove is that the couple had sex, they’re not married, and the child is underage. The burden of proof is very low."
Mills urged military personnel to check identification if they suspect a teen is under 16.
"They (the servicemembers) have the power to stop this from happening," Mills said. "They’re the adults. They’re the ones who have the maturity to say, ‘No, this isn’t right.’"
Stars and Stripes reporter Allison Batdorff contributed to this story.