Legal Assault

The Navy has taken front and center in the abysmal military record on sexual assaults.  The same service that originally brought sexual harassment and assault to the forefront of public awareness with Tailhook, has now found a way to use the legal process to degrade a victim.  I’m referring to the disgraceful conduct of Navy attorney’s engaged in attempting to destroy a plebe who alleges sexual assault by three of her classmates at the Academy.

The case, at least until the cross-examination began, is not as clear-cut as it could be.  The easily agreed upon issues are that there was a party at an off-base location involving some substantial partying by middies of both genders, and very liberal amounts of alcohol….way t-o-o liberal amounts.  At some point there was sexual contact to one of the female middies, who was by all accounts very much under the influence.  Rape?  Or no?  A question for the courts, or in this case the military board examining the charge.

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The problem is the line of questioning by the attorneys of the male midshipmen who are alleged to have committed the act.  While I understand that there will always be challenges to a victims credibility, this case has gone over the line.   Go read the reports describing the questions on attire, underwear, attitude, even mouth size……invasive and abusive questions that in some cases clearly had no goal other than to humiliate the victim.  The amount of questioning of the victim (which is prior to the trial of the defendants) ran into days.  Eventually she asked for a day off due to stress, which got a snarky comment from one attorney about how all she was doing was sitting in a chair, how stressful could that be?  Really?  It may be sitting, but I’d bet that anyone who was grilled about the most personal aspects of their lives and forced to relive again and again a traumatizing event would need a break too.

So, the Superintendent of the Academy then over rules the board, and opts to charge two of the accused mids.  Now while this might appear to be a positive thing, I am forced to wonder if this was a political statement.  Was this a response to the furor over the Air Force case where the Wing Commander opted to overturn the board’s recommendation to prosecute an officer over sexual assault?  Or was this an effort to further traumatize the victim to show other possible accusers just how well they will fare in the process?  Or perhaps I’m just being cynical in the analysis.

Either way, the military justice system for sexual assault needs to be fixed.  Previous efforts by the military have shown little progress. The time has come for drastic change, putting into the hands of independent investigators and removing it from the established chain of command.

Otherwise, victims will be assaulted again and again…by the process.

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