Pressure on Academy Rape Victims Cited
Friday, March 10, 2006
The midshipman told her friends she had been raped but was reluctant to report the incident. At the U.S. Naval Academy, her friend testified yesterday, making sexual assault accusations can get you ostracized, especially when the accused is a popular football player.
"Any girl at our school who turns in a guy is gonna be crucified," Midshipman Elizabeth Burnett said yesterday during the second day of a preliminary hearing for Lamar S. Owens Jr., who is accused of rape, indecent assault and conduct unbecoming an officer. "He was Midshipman Owens. He was quarterback of the football team, a very good football team. He leads Bible study. This was a terrible position."
Burnett's testimony highlighted a nagging problem at the academy, which has been accused repeatedly of perpetuating an environment that is hostile to women. The school, which began admitting women in 1976, has been struggling to reform its culture, even as it has been hit by recurring sexual assault and harassment scandals in recent years.
Owens's civilian attorney, Steven F. Wrobel, said yesterday that his client engaged in "consensual acts" in the early morning of Jan. 29 and would be cleared.
The hearing, to determine whether there is enough evidence to proceed to trial by court-martial, was suspended yesterday after the prosecution presented evidence of two new allegations: that Owens violated a military protective order to stay at least 100 feet away from the woman and that he viewed pornography on his dorm room computer, which is connected to a government network. The hearing is set to resume April 3.
If convicted, Owens could face penalties ranging from expulsion from the service to prison time.
Owens led the Navy football team to an 8-4 record and a bowl victory last season. He was known on campus as being deeply religious and was voted most valuable player by his teammates. He and the woman remain in school.
Burnett said the pressure not to report sexual assaults comes not only from male midshipmen but also from women, who make up about 17 percent of the 4,200-member student body.
"They'll say this is why the guys here won't date us," Burnett said, adding that some students are distancing themselves from the 20-year-old accuser, who has not been publicly identified. The Washington Post does not name those who allege sexual assaults.
"People are starting to find out it's her," Burnett said. "And some people are not really standing by her."
In cross-examination of witnesses, Wrobel began laying the groundwork for what appears to be the heart of Owens's defense: that after a night fueled by alcohol, the young man and woman engaged in consensual sex in her dorm room.
In testimony Wednesday, the woman acknowledged that she was drinking heavily that night and that there are gaps in her memory.