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06/18/2013

Three U.S. Naval Academy football players could be charged with rape

USNAAVALACADEMYU.S. Naval Academy graduates celebrate in Annapolis, Md. on May 24, 2013 Photo: Larry Downing/Reuters

 

The issue of rape continues to ravage America, a menacing, high-profile scourge that colleges, schools and – most recently, the military – seem at pains to comes to grips with.

As we wrote earlier here this year, a 2011 study revealed that one of every five U.S. women experiences rape, or attempted rape, in their lifetime. Worse, one in five experiences it during their college or university years.

Now a recent Pentagon survey reveals the problem appears rampant in the military: 26,000 service members report they experienced “unwanted sexual contact” in 2012 alone.

Yet just 3,374 of these sexual assaults were actually reported.

Why?

In the military, as in civilian life, victims have little faith that authorities will take their complaints seriously.

That seemed to be the case in April last year with the alleged sexual assault of a U.S. Navy midshipwoman in Annapolis, Md.

The woman actually gave up hope that her story of a three-on-one rape at the hands of colleagues would be dealt with.

Her lawyer Susan Burke told NBC News Tuesday her client had been “ostracized” by her Navy colleagues following her complaint.

Crushed, the victim finally stopped co-operating with prosecutors after a time – and the investigation folded.

But in February, she refiled.

Reports now say U.S. Naval Academy Vice Admiral Michael Miller will soon announce the convening of an Article 32 proceeding, the equivalent of a preliminary hearing.

The similarities between the U.S. Naval Academy fiasco and the infamous Steubenville High School rape earlier this years are striking: in both cases the alleged attackers were football players, in Steubenville they were high school players, in Annapolis they were members of the Naval Academy football team; in both cases the victims had been drinking; both were comatose at the time at the time of the assault; and both only learned of it later from friends and social media.

Finally, of course, it took guts to file a complaint in the face of communities that did not want to hear about it.

Legal experts say the naval case will turn on whether the victim gave consent.

In the Steubenville case – followed by millions around the world – prosecutors argued successfully that the 16-year-old victim was in no position to give consent.

Two Steubenville football players were found guilty.

Might the Naval Academy case end similarly?

Watch this space.

 Bill Schiller has held bureau postings for the Star in Johannesburg, Berlin, London and Beijing. He is a NNA and Amnesty International Award winner, and a Harvard Nieman Fellow from the class of '06. Follow him on Twitter @wschiller

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