The U.S. Naval Academy has resumed investigation over an alleged sexual assault charge — the latest internal assault allegation in an already embattled military grappling with soaring abuse cases and bungled legal proceedings.
The victim, a female midshipman, was allegedly assaulted by three Academy football players after she became intoxicated and passed out at a party held at an off-campus football house in Annapolis.
“She learned from friends and social media that three football players were claiming to have had sexual intercourse with her while she was incapacitated,” explained Susan Burke, the woman’s attorney, in an email distributed to reporters.
“We continue to ask: Why should justice in military sexual assault cases be placed in the untrained and biased hands of commanders whose own career interest may be served by covering up incidents like this one?” Burke writes.
The woman had filed her allegation with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, only to find herself disciplined for drinking. The Academy superintendent Vice Admiral Michael H. Miller had initially closed the criminal investigation, but agreed to re-open it when the woman sought help.
No charges have been filed at this time.
This investigation comes at a difficult time for the military, directly following the Pentagon’s report that an estimated 26,000 military service members experienced “unwanted sexual contact,” last year, up a staggering 35% from an estimated 19,300 in 2010.
Of those, only 3,374, or 13%, filed sexual harassment reports, and fewer than one in ten of those reports ended in a sexual assault conviction at court-martial.
Meanwhile the military is still trying to regain control over a flurry of scandals, including Lt. Gen. Craig A. Franklin, commander of the Third Air Force in Europe, dropping the conviction of Lt. Col. James Wilkerson on February 26, who had been found guilty of sexual assaulting a 49-year-old female civilian contractor. At a boot-camp in Lackland, near San Antonio, one fourth of the instructors in the 331st Training Squadron have either been charged with sexual assault crimes, or were under investigation for misconduct. And in a particularly embarrassing incident, Lt. Col. Jeffrey Krusinski, head of the Air Force’s program to prevent sexual assaults, was charged with allegedly groping a woman’s breasts and vagina in a parking lot in Arlington.
Many point to the “old boy’s club” feel of the military, one that not only culturally condones assault, but seeks to protect the perpetrators. “The appearances of this are devastating to victims of sexual assault throughout the military,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). “It looks like somebody taking care of one of their guys.”
President Obama himself has taken up the issue, taking time to address the scandals at his highly-publicized commencement address earlier this month at the U.S. Naval Academy.
“We need your honor, that inner compass that guides you,” the president told the graduates. “Even more than physical courage, we need your moral courage — the strength to do what’s right, even when it’s unpopular.
“If we want to restore the trust that the American people deserve to have in their institutions, all of us have to do our part.”
Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has spoken out too, noting recently that “this department may be nearing a stage where the frequency of this crime and the perception that there is tolerance of it could undermine our ability to effectively carry out the mission and to recruit and retain the good people we need.
“This is unacceptable to me and the leaders of this institution.”
Outside the military the numbers aren’t much better — it’s estimated that about one in four women may experience sexual violence in their lifetime, as well as one in thirty-three men. The American Association of University Women estimates that 95% of attacks go unreported, and 42% of victims never tell anyone at all — making sexual assault, no matter where it happens, a virtually silent epidemic.