Records of sexual assaults in the U.S. military in Japan, obtained by The Associated Press through the Freedom of Information Act, are opening a rare window into the opaque world of military justice.
AP analysis found the handling of allegations verged on the chaotic, with seemingly strong cases often reduced to lesser charges.
Even when military authorities agreed a crime had been committed, the suspect was unlikely to serve time.
Nearly two-thirds of those whose punishments were detailed in the records were not incarcerated. Instead they were fined, demoted, restricted to their bases or removed from the military.
In about 30 cases, a letter of reprimand was the only punishment.
Several of the documents describe investigations that appeared to indicate a crime, but were dropped with little or no explanation.
Such is the case for an investigation that began in January 2008 against a Navy doctor who would go on to sexually abuse women in the military until his clinical privileges were suspended in 2009.
Airman Tina Wilson’s name is redacted from the report, but she spoke up a day after she went to the health clinic at Naval Air Facility Atsugi, a US base southwest of Tokyo, to have a dressing changed following surgery on her tailbone.
The doctor, Lt. Cmdr. Anthony L. Velasquez, walked over to look at the wound as a corpsman took care of the dressing. Then Velasquez announced that the results were in from a staph-infection test, and that he was going to check Wilson’s lymph nodes.
He checked her neck, then went under her shirt and ran his hands up the sides of her torso. Then he asked Wilson, whose pants were unzipped because of the dressing change, to lie on her side. He felt her left hip bone, then slid his hand down the front of her pants and under her panties.
Wilson pulled up her pants, and confused and shaken, headed for the door.
“I have to tell somebody,” Wilson said in a recent interview with the AP.
“What if he’s done this before, you know. There is a little girl right behind me that’s going to see this guy next,” she said explaining her decision to report the incident.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) document summarizing the investigation prompted by Wilson’s complaint shows that three other women subsequently came forward, saying Velasquez had also touched them inappropriately.
Nevertheless, after 10 months the investigation was closed with no action.
According to the document, Yokosuka Naval Hospital declined to take any action against the doctor, and the Navy legal services office in Yokosuka determined the case would not be forwarded to Navy officials in San Diego who oversee medical operations in Japan.
Finally in 2010, after accusations from more than two dozen women, the Navy filed multiple counts of sexual misconduct and other charges against Velasquez.
Most of the charges were dropped under a plea deal.
Velasquez’s punishment: He served a week in the brig, was dismissed from the Navy, lost his license to practice medicine, and was required to register as a sex offender.
Retired Rear Adm. Richard B. Wren, the former commander of Navy forces in Japan who oversaw Velasquez’s court-martial, did not return telephone calls seeking comment.
Wilson, 27, left the Navy, distraught over how her case had been handled.
“It was the process that victimized me more than the day that he violated me,” Wilson said.
The number of sexual assault cases taken to courts-martial has grown steadily _ from 42 percent in 2009 to 68 percent in 2012, according to DOD figures. In 2012, of the 238 service members convicted; 74 percent served time.
“How many more rapes do we have to endure to wait and see what reforms are needed?” asked Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a Democrat from New York.