Naval Academy deals with fallout of sexual assault allegations


The United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. The U.S. Naval Academy is investigating allegations that three members of its football team sexually assaulted a female midshipman at an off-campus house last year. (Kathleen Lange/AP)

The mother of a woman who says she was raped by three U.S. Naval Academy football players accused the institution Saturday of not taking the case seriously or doing enough to protect her daughter.

The mother said her daughter, a third-year midshipman, has been seeing a counselor off-campus once a week and has become introverted and reclusive since the alleged attack last spring. The mother requested anonymity to protect her daughter’s identity. The Washington Post’s policy is not to name the victims of sexual crimes.

“It’s like, to the academy, it never happened, and it was all brushed away,” the mother said in an interview.

No charges have been filed in the case, but the Naval Criminal Investigative Service acknowledged Friday that it is looking into the incident. Academy spokesman John Schofield said the superintendent is waiting for a final report from the NCIS before deciding how to handle the case.

“We are completely and utterly committed to a full and fair investigative process,” Schofield said.

The attorney for the female midshipman who says she was raped by three Navy football players tells David Martin her client was reprimanded for drinking. The NCIS probe was dropped after a player asked her not to cooperate.

Word about the incident reportedly spread through the academy after a raucous off-campus house party in April 2012, when the woman was allegedly attacked. Her attorney, Susan Burke, said the woman had been drinking heavily before the party and blacked out after arriving. Later, she learned through friends and social media that three football players claimed to have had sex with her that night.

Burke said that after the party, the female midshipman and a friend reported the incident to the NCIS. But the midshipman had had a lot to drink at the party and couldn’t provide much information to investigators, she said. The case was halted, Burke said.

Burke said her client was disciplined for drinking and was ostracized by the Naval Academy community. The football players suffered no adverse consequences, she said.

The woman’s mother said her daughter did not tell her what happened until after Christmas, when she received a special dispensation for a three-day leave. After her daughter told the story at the kitchen table, her mother cried and hugged her.

“I was just so heartbroken and devastated for her,” she said. “I told her that regardless of what the situation might have been, no one deserves that. No one.”

The mother said her daughter had stopped cooperating with the investigation once it resumed because of social pressure from classmates and even some faculty members. She considered leaving the academy but decided to stick it out. In fact, when she returned to campus, she began pushing her case once again.

“She said, ‘Why should I leave when I’m not the one who did anything wrong?’ ” her mother recalled. “I said, ‘You know what you’re going to have to endure if it’s been this bad so far.’ ”

The military has been plagued by accusations of sexual abuse and criticized for the way it has handled those cases. The NCIS was investigating the report even as President Obama addressed the broader issue in his commencement speech at the academy last week. On Saturday, Pentagon spokesman George Little called the allegations “extremely disturbing.”

“Sexual assault has no place in the United States military,” he said.

The academy requires all midshipmen to take training through the Sexual Harassment and Assault Prevention and Education program. Recent graduate Donald Bowers, a leader with the program at the time of the alleged attack, said in a phone interview Saturday that the lessons focus on “what is okay and what is not okay.”

He said he believes more cases of sexual assault occur at the academy than are reported. There were 13 reported cases of sexual assault at the Naval Academy in the 2011-12 school year, down from 22 the year before, according to the most recent available statistics from the Defense Department.

“It was so frustrating whenever people would say, ‘If a girl gets drunk and there are two people who want to have sex, how do you stop that?’ ” said Bowers, who is stationed on a ship in California. “You have guys who say, ‘Well she was drunk and asked for it.’ First of all, in order to have sex, you must have permission. Period.”

Bowers said that he explained legal concepts, such as a woman’s ability to consent, to fellow midshipmen in terms that would resonate with them.

“We would go into the realm of what is morally right,” he said. “If your sister were drunk, completely drunk, and there was a guy who said, ‘Do you want to go in the bedroom and get it on?’ you would say, ‘No, that’s not right.’ Every guy would say that’s wrong.”

The grounds of the academy were quiet Saturday, with more than 4,000 midshipmen having departed for summer training. Robert Peterson of Minnesota was at the campus to visit his son and said that although most of the midshipmen were “outstanding kids,” the case could put the reputation of the 168-year-old institution at risk.

“It really tarnishes the image of the military academies,” he said. “It reflects badly on all 4,000 and not just the three.”

The woman’s mother said her daughter had dreamed of attending the academy since she was in middle school. The mother said that’s when she made a list of her top colleges, along with the tuition, and the Naval Academy was ranked number one. Although none of her hometown friends attended, The daughter quickly built a large social circle in Annapolis, her mother said. She was involved in one extracurricular club, and those connections led her to the party last spring, her mother said.

“I thought when I sent her there that is the one place that she would be safe,” she said.

Dan Morse, Ernesto Londoño and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report.

Ylan Q. Mui is a financial reporter at The Washington Post covering the Federal Reserve and the economy.
Theresa Vargas is a reporter for the Post’s local enterprise team.
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