The Naval Academy has finally charged three Navy football players with sexual assault, more than a year after the alleged incident occurred. The story is just the latest in a series highlighting the military's sexual assault crisis.
The unnamed football players will face charges of sexual misconduct and making false statements, in connection with an investigation by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service into the alleged assault of a female midshipman. Here's how the AP described the alleged incident:
"The alleged assault occurred in April 2012 at an off-campus house in Annapolis. The woman's attorney, Susan Burke, has said the woman woke up with bruises after a night of heavy drinking and later learned from friends and social media that three football players she considered friends were claiming to have had sex with her while she was intoxicated and blacked out"
The academy's official story on the delay of the trial cites the alleged victim's unwillingness to cooperate in an investigation. But it could be a bit more complicated than that: her lawyer says that the alleged victim was told not to participate in the investigation by the accused, after she'd been disciplined for drinking when she reported the incident to NCIS. The academy reopened the investigation after the midshipman requested that they do so, in early 2013.
Now, the accused face a preliminary hearing, called an Article 32 hearing, which will determine whether a court marshal is needed. The accuser's attorney sent the Atlantic Wire the following statement:
“My client and I are cautiously optimistic that justice will finally prevail in this case. Even if this case is successfully prosecuted, the larger problem remains: rape cases in the military are controlled by untrained and biased commanders whose career interests may be served by covering up incidents like this one. The Naval Academy's handling of this case raises troubling questions about how the victim and the football players were treated. This case reflects why rape victims are fearful and skeptical of the military justice system. Our military academy students and all service members deserve better. They deserve a fair and impartial system of justice, not the broken system we have that only protects perpetrators and further punishes victims."
In early May, the Pentagon reported that an estimated 26,000 sexual assaults happened in the military in 2012. And since then, the news cycle has been crowded with cases of alleged military sexual assault — notably, at West Point, and by officers in charge of preventing assault. But it looks like sweeping reform of the military's protocol for handling sexual assault reports isn't in the cards: earlier in June, Congress backed down from a proposal that would have removed a commanding officer's power to decide against prosecuting a case of alleged sexual misconduct.
Meanwhile a Pew Poll out earlier this month notes that a majority of Americans believe the military sexual assault problem has to do with bad individuals, and not with the military itself. And while the rate of estimated sexual assault in the military isn't that much higher than the rate of assault among the general population, that conception isn't exactly true.