Naval Academy Case Exposes a Backward America

Petula Dvorak, Washington Post, September 2, 2013

You know how you can get all wrapped up in a good summer novel and have to remind yourself where you are when you put it down?

Well, America has made it pretty hard this past week to remind myself that we do not, in fact, live in the brutal 18th-century society I’m reading about, where rape is unacknowledged and young women are treated as disposable.

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Here in Washington, defense attorneys in a military hearing have made their point loud and clear that if you report a sexual assault, they will make your life hell.

A U.S. Naval Academy midshipman who says she was raped by three fellow students last year finally had her case acknowledged by the academy. And she was ravaged by the attorneys of the defendants.

They asked her whether she was wearing a bra or panties that night. They asked her to describe how wide she opens her mouth during oral sex. They asked her if she “felt like a ho” the next morning.

What? An attorney said “ho” in a hearing?

It sounded like a witch trial. But her interrogation, which ended Sunday, came at an Article 32 hearing, which is the military equivalent of a grand jury hearing to determine whether the case would go to trial, or in this case, a military court-martial.

The woman said she went to an off-campus “toga and yoga” party at the football house last spring. She drank way too much and blacked out. The next morning, her back was sore and she didn’t remember much. She didn’t report anything.

“She learned from friends and social media that three football players were claiming to have had sexual intercourse with her while she was incapacitated,” her attorney, Susan Burke, said in a statement when I wrote about the case in June.

It was her fellow classmates, who were horrified by the online bragging of the three football players, who reported the case.

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She and her attorney began to wonder if the academy would ever investigate the players.

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Legal experts say they would never be able to go that far—the sexual-position questions, the cross-examination about her underpants—in a civilian trial.

Perhaps this cultural difference explains a recent Pentagon report, which stated that while as many as 26,000 service members said they were the targets of unwanted sexual contact last year, only 3,374 incidents of sexual assault were reported.

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The Pentagon report also said that the majority—53 percent—of the people who said they were assaulted were men. And they were assaulted by other men.

Take the case of Greg Jeloudov, who told Newsweek that two weeks after he joined the military in 2009, he was gang-raped in the barracks by men who said they were showing him who was in charge.

“It must have been your fault. You must have provoked them,” is what he said commanders told him.

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The Naval Academy case underscores the reasons behind the rising concern over the way the military handles sexual assault cases.

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Eric Graham, Joshua Tate and Tra'ves Bush.

Eric Graham, Joshua Tate and Tra’ves Bush.

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