Academy rape trial shows what accusers endure in military
At a time the military is under attack for how it handles sexual violence in its ranks, the proceedings at the Washington Navy Yard offer a case study on why women in uniform are so reluctant to report sexual assaults.
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON — She was too drained to go on, she said.
After four days and more than 20 hours of relentless questions about her medical history and motivations, her dance moves and underwear, the 21-year-old midshipman, who has accused three former Naval Academy football players of raping her, pleaded Saturday for a day off from testimony. It was granted by the hearing’s presiding officer, but not before the request triggered more antipathy from defense attorneys, who accused the woman of faking her exhaustion.
“What was she going to be doing anyway?” asked Ronald “Chip” Herrington, one of the defense attorneys for Eric Graham, 21, a senior from Eight Mile, Ala. “Something more strenuous than sitting in a chair?”
At a time the military is under attack for how it handles sexual violence in its ranks, the proceedings at the Washington Navy Yard offer a case study on why women in uniform are so reluctant to report sexual assaults. The hearing highlights significant disparities between the way the military and civilian world treat accusers and the accused.
As many as 26,000 service members said they were the targets of unwanted sexual contact last year, but only 3,374 incidents of sexual assault were reported, the Pentagon said in May.
Last month, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel approved new regulations aimed at providing more support to suspected victims of sexual assault. But none of the reforms would alter how the military conducts what is known as an Article 32 hearing, the proceeding in the Naval Academy rape case.
An Article 32 has no rules of evidence and allows open-ended cross-examinations that can be trial-like in nature and scathing in tone.
Roger Canaff, a former prosecutor who has helped the military improve its handling of sexual-assault cases, said no civilian court in any state would allow the kind of questions that are routinely permitted at Article 32 hearings. The legal proceedings are so hard on women who allege sexual assault that “a lot of cases die there as a result,” said Canaff, who works with a group called End Violence Against Women International.
The midshipman has come under withering cross-examination from defense attorneys, who include both civilian and military lawyers. (The Washington Post and The Seattle Times do not generally identify the alleged victims of sexual assault.) Some questions focused on the night of the alleged assault in April 2012 at a party, where, she testified, she had blacked out after finishing off a bottle of coconut rum.
“Were you wearing a bra” to that party? asked Andrew Weinstein, an attorney representing defendant Tra’ves Bush, 22, of Johnston, S.C. “Were you wearing underwear?”
Weinstein demanded to know how often she lies — “at least once a day?” — and whether she “felt like a ho” the morning after the party.
Lt. Cmdr. Angela Tang, another attorney for Graham, repeatedly asked the woman how wide she opens her mouth to perform oral sex. When prosecutors objected, Graham’s attorneys argued that they were trying to show that oral sex required “active participation,” on the part of the accuser, which would indicate consent.
That line of questioning probably would not be allowed in a Maryland courtroom, said Lisae Jordan, executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.
“The clever lawyer can easily intimidate the witness” in an Article 32 hearing, said retired Army Col. Lawrence Morris, a former military prosecutor and defense attorney, because the process is “much more favorable to the accused” than a civilian proceeding.
The woman has repeatedly said that on the night of the party, she drank so heavily that she blacked out and only pieced together what had happened after seeing tweets and hearing rumors that she had had sex with Bush, Graham and the third defendant, Joshua Tate, 21, a junior from Nashville, Tenn., who all have denied wrongdoing.
The woman, who is in her final year at the academy, has testified that she initially refused to cooperate with investigators, even after others who had heard the rumors reported them to authorities.
The hearing will continue Sunday.