WASHINGTON -- More Marines and Navy sailors were tried for rapes, child molestations and other sexual assaults at bases in Japan than at any other U.S. military site in the world.
Computer records of Navy and Marine Corps cases since 1988 show that bases in Japan, which have a total of 41,008 personnel, held 169 courts-martial for sexual assaults. That's 66 percent more cases than the No. 2 location, San Diego, which had 102 cases and has 93,792 personnel.
The No. 3 location, Norfolk, Va., had 90 courts-martial. Norfolk has 113,004 personnel.
Sexual assaults by U.S. military personnel have become the focus of international attention after the alleged rape of a 12-year-old Japanese girl on Sept. 4. The girl was heading home from a neighborhood store in northern Okinawa when she was abducted, bound and taken to a deserted beach, where she was beaten and raped, authorities said.
Two Marines and a sailor were charged in the case.
The Navy and Marines aren't the only armed services with a high rate of sexual-assault cases in Japan. Among Air Force facilities, Kadena Air Base, Japan, led all but one other installation in the number of people charged with sexual assaults.
Air Force computer records, which included personnel charged but not tried, show that 23 people were charged with sexual assaults at Kadena, near the island of Okinawa. Nellis Air Force Base near Las Vegas was worst, with 26 cases, but that base has 7,020 military personnel -- hundreds more than Kadena, which has 5,984.
The computer records do not show how many of the cases involved assaults on Japanese women.
Officials at the Japanese Embassy in Washington said they would examine the high rate of sexual assaults committed by U.S. service members. "I am not quite sure whether we can make any comments on that, but we are going to look into it," Japanese Embassy spokesman Tsukasa Uemura said.
Orlando, Fla., attorney Robert Wheelock, who has defended military personnel in Japan, said several factors may explain the numbers.
"Okinawa is one of the biggest staging areas for Marines in the early part of their careers," he said. "That means you have a large population of 18- to 22-year-old kids there -- many of them away from home for the first time, feeling their oats, trained to think they're hot stuff just because they're Marines."
Army Reserve Maj. Kathy Platoni, a clinical psychologist in Centerville, Ohio, said military personnel overseas often feel liberated from the social structures that had previously controlled their behavior at home.
"There is often a party atmosphere and an attitude of: 'I can act out, and I'm not going to get caught.' That's why they feel free to abuse other humans," she said.
Military officials declined to explain the high number of courts-martial in Japan. During a speech in New York on Sept. 27, Defense Secretary William J. Perry, reacting to the attack on the Japanese girl, said all U.S. military personnel must be held accountable for their actions.
"So when any of our military personnel violates the hospitality of our host country, it is not only an action for which that person must be held individually responsible, but it also reflects upon the United States and makes it more difficult for us to perform our important military mission," Mr. Perry said.
In a series of stories published last week, the Dayton Daily News reported that the U.S. armed services allowed hundreds of accused sex offenders to escape criminal prosecution or go free despite convictions. Many were sent back to civilian life with no criminal record.
The newspaper looked at more than 100,000 previously unreleased military computer records as part of an eight-month examination of sexual assaults handled by the military, which has its own criminal justice system.
The Army refused to release computer records on courts-martial. Using the computer records from the other services, the newspaper calculated sexual assault prosecutions at military installations around the world.
Of the 169 courts-martial at Navy and Marine Corps installations in Japan, nearly a third were held in the military's version of misdemeanor court, where the maximum sentence is six months.