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A women’s civic group is demanding that Sasebo Naval Base and city officials do something to thwart crimes by servicemembers, especially against women.

About 70 members of the group rallied and marched on Jan. 25 for the first time in eight years after a Sasebo-based sailor was arrested as a suspect in the alleged rape of a 19-year-old woman. The Rally of Women Who Will Not Forgive Base Crimes formed in 1996 after an attempted burglary and murder case, also involving a woman.

Statistics released by the Nagasaki Prefectural Police Headquarters show the number of crimes committed by base servicemembers increased from five in 2002 to 15 in 2003, not including traffic accidents. The base declined to provide crime records.

Sasebo Naval Base “enjoys a close working relationship with the Nagasaki Prefecture Police,” said Charles Howard, base spokesman. “Since the statistics requested pertain to arrests and convictions within NPP’s jurisdiction, NPP would be the appropriate releasing authority and it would be inappropriate for us to comment.”

The women’s group re-formed and rallied in response to allegations that Petty Officer 3rd Class Markies Steven Bates, 24, a base postal clerk, raped a local 19-year-old woman Jan. 16. Bates formally was charged with the offense Feb. 6.

During the recent rally, members agreed to send letters of protest to the local government and base commander Capt. Michael James. Howard said a letter from the group was received Feb. 5.

“We respect their right to express opinions and concerns,” he said.

“Rape is a crime against women and an abuse of human rights. The victim will have to suffer the rest of her life,” rally organizer Emiko Miyamoto said.

Miyamoto said rape is a “heinous crime, no matter whether servicemembers or Japanese commit it,” but said she believes the victim’s fear was more intense and damaging because the rapist was a servicemember.

She said the alleged rape by Bates leaves other women in the community feeling that U.S. servicemembers are “arrogant” because they’re stationed in Japan to protect the nation.

Howard said the command will continue to stress to its sailors and civilian employees that they are to respect Japanese laws as they should the laws of their own land. “On the very rare occasions when someone runs afoul of the law, [the base] will fully cooperate in any investigations and assure guilty parties are held accountable for their crime, whether it occurs on or off base,” he said.

Preventive measures taken by the base include a four-day indoctrination for all reporting personnel and special military training such as that ordered Feb. 6 by base commander James.

The women’s group wrote that the women believe many crimes are going unreported, Miyamoto said. The group’s letter to the mayor said the U.S. Navy needs to investigate the rape of which Bates is accused and if he is found guilty he should apologize to and compensate the victim. They asked the city and the base to give them official numbers on crimes servicemembers committed against women on and off the base.

“The mayor takes a special interest in the incident,” said Masahide Haraguchi, Sasebo city’s Base Affairs Department chief. The city asked that the base commander and Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs discipline and educate the servicemembers, he added.

The city plans to keep closer contact with base officials — and not just when an incident occurs. However, Haraguchi said, the city is pleased by the recent training program.

“When a single incident occurs, it impacts all the people working on base,” Haraguchi added. “It damages the trust between the residents and the base. We hope such cases will not happen” again.

“The women’s group is saying that incidents will happen just because there is a base, but the issue can be resolved as long as there is care and respect for each other. We will continue to ask the base to educate their troops,” he said.

The base “has absolutely no tolerance for those who do not conduct themselves in accordance with the high standards we have set,” Howard said.

“We will continue our programs and our leadership efforts,” he added. “And we will not be satisfied until we completely eradicate misconduct.”

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