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Friday, Feb. 15, 2008

U.S. sets up task force over Okinawa rape case

Staff writer

The United States Forces Japan set up a task force of top brass to review and reinforce its sexual-harassment and assault-prevention programs as resentment builds over the alleged rape of a 14-year-old girl by a U.S. Marine in Okinawa, its commander said Thursday.

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Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, Lt. Gen. Bruce Wright said a series of working groups under the task force will review the educational programs and preventive steps already in place over the next two to four weeks.

Wright stressed that the quick formation of the task force reflects the firm determination of the U.S. to do all it can to strengthen discipline in the military.

"This kind of act is absolutely unacceptable. . . . Our job is to do everything we can to restore the confidence of Japanese people," Wright said.

Aside from reviewing the existing programs, the USFJ plans to bring in experts on sexual assault to ensure the credibility of the measures, he said.

Wright did not elaborate on what the additional steps might be, saying the issue was still undergoing a comprehensive review process. But he did say the U.S. would try to reach a conclusion as quickly as possible.

Wright said the current programs — including certain limits on the movements of younger servicemen off-base during late hours — had been effective up to now.

"We know that the (existing) programs have been effective over the years both in the U.S. and outside the U.S.," he said, adding that the programs are reaching all the servicemen.

"We'll find ways to make the programs better. We obviously have a challenge here. We've had this incident which is deplorable," he said. One of the challenges in operating in Japan is "that we have to adhere to the highest standards of professional conduct here."

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