Airman Dennis Rocha, as seen in a British mug shot. Rocha was sentenced to six years and eight months in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of rape of a minor.

Airman Dennis Rocha, as seen in a British mug shot. Rocha was sentenced to six years and eight months in prison after pleading guilty to two counts of rape of a minor. (Wiltshire police)

An American airman stationed at RAF Mildenhall in England will serve time in a British prison for the rape of a 12-year-old autistic girl, a U.K. court ruled this week.

Airman Dennis Rocha, an 18-year-old security forces member last assigned to the 100th Security Forces Squadron, was sentenced Wednesday in Swindon Crown Court to almost seven years behind bars after pleading guilty to two counts of raping a child under 13, a Wiltshire police statement issued the same day said.

Officials from the 100th Air Refueling Wing said Air Force law enforcement had assisted and cooperated with local police.

Regulations prevent the Air Force from discharging service members in foreign confinement, so Rocha will be separated from the service after his release from prison, according to a wing statement.

“Sexual assault has no place in the (Air Force),” a spokesman for the 100th Air Refueling Wing said. “All airmen and guardians are responsible for cultivating a culture of dignity and respect where these corrosive behaviors are not tolerated.”

Rocha, who is originally from California, first contacted the girl on April 8 by adding her on his Snapchat account, authorities said.

Although he was aware of the child’s age, Rocha initiated the conversation and shared sexually explicit messages with her, police said.

He then arranged a meeting the following day and drove more than 170 miles from his on-base dormitory to meet her in Wiltshire, a county west of London, according to police.

After picking her up from her home, he took her to a secluded location and had sex with her in his car, prosecutors said.

In court, Prosecutor Chris Smyth said that at one point, the condom Rocha was using slipped off, according to media reports.

“I’m worried I might be pregnant, and I won’t find out until next week,” the girl told police at the time, British news outlets reported.

Defense attorney Sam Jones described Rocha as a “kind-hearted and gentle young man” who was “genuinely remorseful,” the Daily Mail reported Thursday.

He asked the court to take into account Rocha’s “youth, inexperience, naivety and lack of maturity, coupled with his own sexual inexperience and the loneliness of being away from home,” according to the newspaper.

However, authorities said Rocha knew that the victim was vulnerable but maintained contact with her anyway.

“He knew what he was doing was illegal and had ample opportunity to cease contact with the victim but continued and took advantage of her for his own gain,” Detective Constable Amanda Lord, the investigating officer, said in a Wednesday statement.

Rocha received a sentence of six years and eight months. He will be eligible to apply for parole after serving two-thirds of his prison term, according to guidelines outlined by the U.K.’s sentencing council.

After his release, he must register as a sex offender in the U.K. and will be subject to an indefinite sexual harm prevention order, which prohibits him from engaging in certain activities, police said.

“We take offenses like these incredibly seriously, and we will always look to protect children from predators such as Rocha and ensure perpetrators of sexual offenses are put before the courts,” Lord said.

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Alexander reports on the U.S. military and local news in Europe for Stars and Stripes in Kaiserslautern, Germany. He has 10 years experience as an Air Force photojournalist covering operations in Timor-Leste, Guam and the Middle East. He graduated from Penn State University and is a Defense Information School alumnus.

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