Navy Rape Trial Further Exposes Military Sexual Assault Crisis

Sexual assault in the military is a pressing problem in America. By some accounts, a woman serving in the armed services has a higher risk of being sexually assaulted than dying in combat. Senator Kristin Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) has been working to draw attention to the problem and push through new legislation that would remove the Pentagon's chain of command from sexual assault reporting by introducing outside trial officials and processes, drawing some support crossing party lines. But a Naval Academy case hearing testimony this week is exposing just how rampant the problem remains and how important it is that the issue gains more support and attention in Washington.

Last week, the Naval Academy began hearing testimony for a case in which a 21-year-old female midshipman has accused three former Naval Academy football players of rape. While the facts still come to light in the case, reports about the nature of the trial indicate that the setting is particularly unwelcoming to those who may be victims. 

While the case is still playing out, the female Naval Academy student who says she was victimized by three of her classmates at an off-campus party last year has been subjected to over 25 hours of testimony over the course of just five days, including one nine-hour cross-examination. "Were you wearing a bra to that party? Were you wearing underwear?" asked Andrew Weinstein, an attorney for defendant Tra'ves Bush, 22. According to The Post, she was even asked whether she "felt like a ho'' the morning after the party.

The woman pleaded for a day off from the emotionally grueling trial procedure last Saturday but, according to the Washington Post, defense lawyer Ronald Herrington pushed back

"What was she going to be doing anyway?" he said. "Something more strenuous than sitting in a chair? We don't concede there's been any stress involved." 

The problem is, while a rape trial is inherently stressful for anyone and any system should prevent innocent people from being wrongly accused, the evidence indicates that trial is especially stressful for those who are victims within the military setting, making the issue particularly pressing and deserving of federal overhaul. 

The Pentagon has just released a new report that shows sexual assaults in the military have reached a horrific high of 70 cases per day. As many as 26,000 service members said they were the targets of unwanted sexual contact last year, but only 3,374 incidents of sexual assault were reported, the Pentagon said in May.

These figures reflect the inevitable gap between reported cases and instances of sexual assault that occurs in any environment. But the gap is particularly significant when considering the chain-of-command military setting, where hierarchical structure victims face in reporting and undergoing trial procedures can impact how willing victims are to report assaults and undergo grueling proceedings.

The DOD has already begun to take these unflattering images into account to push surface-level initiatives to make sexual assault reporting less stigmatized and, theoretically, more fair. But most of these efforts, such as a new request from defense secretary Chuck Hagel to direct the DOD inspector general to "regularly evaluate closed sexual assault investigations" and "improve victim legal services," are too vague and unlikely to hit the center of the problem.

Senator Gillibrand's proposed bill to strip military commanders of their authority in rape trials in favor of trained lawyers offers just one approach to the issue. Her attempt to shed light on the problem and propose a solution has faced some pushback across party lines and still lacks high-profile support, for example, from the Obama administration.

But, no matter whether one agrees with the existing proposal, the more attention and proposed solutions the better, as the problem tends to be overshadowed by other hot-button issues playing out in Congress. The grueling nature of the recent Naval Academy trial underlines the fact that, despite some recent attention to the problem in the media and in Washington, the issue of trial procedure and sexual assault in the military is very real for victims and deserves serious, expedient attention in America.

How likely are you to make Mic your go-to news source?

Rachel George

Rachel is a PhD candidate in International Relations at the London School of Economics. She holds a BA in Politics from Princeton and an MA in Middle Eastern Studies from Harvard. Her interests include journalism, U.S. foreign policy, human rights, and international law.

MORE FROM

5 blocks of London apartments to be evacuated over potentially flammable cladding

800 North London apartments will be evacuated following a fire inspection that turned up evidence that the buildings could be unsafe.

Tomi Lahren wants to rally women to her side after criticizing feminists and "pro-choicers"

"My view on abortion is not black-and-white," Lahren said.

These 5 states are drafting laws to limit protests on college campuses

The legislation is intended to protect free speech on campus.

California bans state-funded travel to Texas, 3 more states because of anti-LGBTQ laws

California isn't keen on sending people to these anti-LGBTQ states.

US military officials seek to delay allowing transgender people to enlist

The U.S. military was given until July 1, 2017, to begin allowing transgender people to enlist.

High school senior recreates Beyoncé's 'Lemonade' album cover for his graduation cap

This is a cap that Queen Bey would be proud of.

5 blocks of London apartments to be evacuated over potentially flammable cladding

800 North London apartments will be evacuated following a fire inspection that turned up evidence that the buildings could be unsafe.

Tomi Lahren wants to rally women to her side after criticizing feminists and "pro-choicers"

"My view on abortion is not black-and-white," Lahren said.

These 5 states are drafting laws to limit protests on college campuses

The legislation is intended to protect free speech on campus.

California bans state-funded travel to Texas, 3 more states because of anti-LGBTQ laws

California isn't keen on sending people to these anti-LGBTQ states.

US military officials seek to delay allowing transgender people to enlist

The U.S. military was given until July 1, 2017, to begin allowing transgender people to enlist.

High school senior recreates Beyoncé's 'Lemonade' album cover for his graduation cap

This is a cap that Queen Bey would be proud of.