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American woman wins case against ex-husband

Date Posted: 1998-04-05

Naha District Court handed down a decision in a three-year-old civil case Tuesday. In 1995, Mary Seward-Yamada brought civil charges against her ex-husband, Yoshitake Yamada, after her daughter came forward and admitted that her step-father had molested and raped her for 2 years. Ms. Seward-Yamada was unable to have criminal charges pressed against Yamada because the statute of limitations had run out, however.

She pushed for the civil trial despite hearing from Japanese and American friends, lawyers, and government officials that her struggle was a waste of time, that it would ruin her other daughter's chance of marrying, and telling her daughter's story would mess up relations between the American and Okinawan community.

Despite language and custom barriers, Ms. Seward-Yamada continued her fight to see justice served. With little support from her Japanese lawyer, Mr. Arakaki, and a judge involved in the proceedings, she was in the courtroom with two of her four children to listen as the final verdict was rendered. "He needs to pay you money for this crime," the judge said in Japanese. A court clerk later translated part of the decision for Ms. Seward-Yamada, who could not believe she had won. "Up until last week, the lawyer and judge still told me to drop it. I just couldn't believe it," she explained.

Ms. Seward-Yamada would like people to know that even if you don't believe the system can work for you if you are an American, or an American woman, the Japanese justice system can still work. "These last four years have not been easy," she told Japan Update. "But in winning the 2 million verdict, my ex-husband has been found guilty of a crime. This might prevent him from doing the same thing to another child." For others to know what he did was one thing she and her daughter wanted to come out of this from the beginning.

An unexpected outcome resulted during this struggle as well. "It hasn't been good, but it has brought myself and my children much closer together. That's something. It taught the kids that even though things are bad, if you stick together, you can get through it," she said.

"I would also like Okinawans to know that there are not only 'Ugly Americans', but it's human, it's everywhere. We all create our own monsters and no one should judge people blindly," she stressed. She has been on Okinawa for fifteen years and loves the island and the safety her children feel here. However, she would like people to realize that things happen here as well, however hidden. "You have to be sure you are not lulled into a false sense of security," she said.

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