Lots of talk and no action in cases of sexual assault in the military

Petula Dvorak
Columnist June 3, 2013

The good news is, we’re talking about it. The bad news is, we’re talking about it. Again.

The high-profile cases of sexual assault in the military just keep on coming. And along with them comes the stunningly retro way in which they are handled.

Petula is a columnist for The Washington Post's local team who writes about homeless shelters, gun control, high heels, high school choirs, the politics of parenting, jails, abortion clinics, mayors, modern families, strip clubs and gas prices, among other things. View Archive

Our latest example comes from the U.S. Naval Academy, which confirmed Friday that it is investigating three academy football players in connection with the sexual assault of one of their classmates.

The midshipman was already drunk when she went to an off-campus party at a place known as “the football house.” She drank until she blacked out, then woke up covered in bruises.

She didn’t tell anyone what happened. A recent Pentagon report estimated that about 26,000 military members were victims of unwanted sexual contact last year, and most of those episodes go unreported.

Why? The victim often winds up getting blamed — and pilloried. Don’t believe me? Just read through the comments on the story, where you’ll encounter epic misogyny, and lots of people who still don’t want women in the military. One commenter said that “rape will be the least of her problems” if the midshipman were to ever get captured.

But she wasn’t in enemy hands. Or so she thought.

At first, she didn’t even know what happened. But soon enough, the campus was crackling with rumors, fueled by online Facebook brags about the assault.

“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.

So this latest scandal merges two of the big trends in sexual assault today — the military and social media confessionals.

Yup, the men we are training to be the future leaders of one of the world’s most formidable military machines are not only accused of allegedly assaulting one of their fellow officers when they found her vulnerable (what about all those heroic stories of never leaving anyone behind?), but then they allegedly bragged about it online.

Great. Give these guys top secret military plans, see how long before they hit Twitter with a #callofdutyreallife! hashtag.

What’s even more appalling is the way these assaults are being handled. This Annapolis incident happened more than a year ago. Since then, the woman has been punished for drinking. What did the guys get? Nada.

The woman was required — according to academy rules — to attend all of the football games these guys were playing in. These are the guys who didn’t even get a slap on the wrist for drinking while an investigation is pending. And pending. And pending.

Football players seem to get a lot of slack at the Naval Academy.

In 2001, three Naval Academy football players withdrew from the academy rather than face criminal charges from the locals for allegedly raping one of their classmates at an off-campus drinking party at a parent’s waterfront home.

Last year, Annie Kendzior went public with her horror story when she filed a lawsuit — again with the help of attorney Burke — against the academy for an assault during her plebe summer in 2007. She went to a lacrosse party, got drunk and went into a back room to sleep it off on an air mattress. She woke up with one of her classmates on top of her, raping her.

Kendzior filed that suit along with a West Point student, Karley Marquet of Pennsylvania. Marquet said she was raped in 2011, when an upperclassman took her to a room and they were both drinking, then he assaulted her.

Lots of people blame the victims instead of the perpetrators. They were drinking, they were with guys. What could you expect?

Here’s what I expect: that our best and brightest, our future officers — the guys who will have to make crucial life-and-death decisions in an increasingly complex world — would not rape a colleague. Period.

To read previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/dvorak.

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