Naval Academy rape case exposes a backward America

 

The Washington Post

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 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.

Let’s take a look at Montana recently, where a former teacher was sentenced to just 30 days in jail after admitting to raping a 14-year-old student, who later killed herself.

The Yellowstone County judge said the girl was “older than her chronological age” and “as much in control of the situation” as the teacher, who was 49 at the time of the ongoing rapes.

Later in the week, after he was slammed across the country, Montana District Judge G. Todd Baugh issued a statement apologizing for his comments. That didn’t change the ridiculous sentence.

But that’s Montana, you think. The judge wears a bolo tie, what can you expect?

OK, so let’s go to D.C., our enlightened nation’s capital.

Here in Washington, military prosecutors 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 prosecutors.

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? A prosecutor 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.

Reluctantly, the woman told academy officials what she could remember. What did the academy do? They punished the 21-year-old for drinking.

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

Now, the military prosecutors are trying to make her regret that the case ever got this far.

The questions have been invasive, irrelevant and demeaning.

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.

Those who believe women should be kept out of the military will point to the report and the Naval Academy case as proof. But hold your horses there, Internet Rousseaus.

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.

Imagine the grilling he would have faced if they took his report seriously.

“Did you ever walk out of the showers with your shirt off?” “Did you ever talk about sex with your bunkmates?” “Did you ever watch porn with other men?”

Nope, at least 10,000 men wouldn’t go there, wouldn’t report a sexual assault.

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

But this isn’t about women in the military. It isn’t about the hidden sexual assault of men in the military. Nor is it about a backward judge in Yellowstone County.

It’s about America still not understanding the difference between consensual sex and rape.

The woman at the Naval Academy is not pretending to be a prude. She described for prosecutors times in the past when she did want to have sex and consented to it. But the stuff those football players bragged about online — she didn’t even remember it. At that point, it’s rape.

Consensual sex happens between two adults who both want it.

Rape is about violence, domination and power.

It shouldn’t be that hard.

And yet, it still is. Just like in the 18th century.

© 2013, The Washington Post

Read more From Our Inbox stories from the Miami Herald

  • Too much paranoia about kids alone in parks

    A couple of weeks ago, the Debra Harrell story made national headlines. Harrell was arrested in North Augusta, S.C., and charged with a felony for letting her 9-year-old daughter play at a park while Harrell worked a shift at a local McDonald’s. Now, it has happened again, in Port St. Lucie, Fla., where a mother was charged with child neglect after letting her son go to a park by himself.

  • Our blind spot about guns

    If we had the same auto-fatality rate today that we had in 1921, by my calculations we would have 715,000 Americans dying annually in vehicle accidents.

  • ’Too big to fail’ equals ‘too eager to borrow’

    Four years ago this month, President Obama signed the Dodd-Frank Act into law, promising that the 848-page financial law would “put a stop to taxpayer bailouts once and for all,” he said. But recently, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren told a Detroit crowd that “the biggest banks are even bigger than they were when they got too big to fail in 2008.”

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK

  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category