Naval Academy Charges Three Football Players in Sexual Assault Case

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Photo: Doug Pensinger /Allsport

The latest sexual assault incident to hit the military comes at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, where three current and former football players have been charged in a sexual assault case that was first reported more than a year ago. It follows a string of high-profile sexual assault cases in the military, but what makes this incident unique is the lengthy investigation that has stopped and started as the accuser first dropped her allegations, then reinstated them. The female cadet, who is now 21, says she was raped while blacked out drunk in April 2012, and when she first brought the case to authorities, she was disciplined for drinking while her alleged attackers were allowed to keep playing football. She told the New York Times she felt intimidated into silence by her fellow cadets.

The woman's attorney, Susan Burke, "has said the woman woke up with bruises after a night of heavy drinking and later learned from friends and social media that three football players she considered friends were claiming to have had sex with her while she was intoxicated and blacked out," the AP reports. Social media played a big role in the Steubenville rape case, too, with students gossiping about the crime online and posting video from the night of the rape online.

Naval authorities don't appear to have stalled, as Steubenville authorities allegedly did. They opened an investigation when the accuser made her initial complaint, then closed it for lack of evidence when she stopped cooperating. But she and her classmates told the Times last month that she faced incredible peer pressure not to report anything. Burke said her client "was ostracized and retaliated against by the football players and the Naval Academy community." The three football players were allowed to continue playing because no charges had been brought and they were presumed innocent, officials told the Times.

When the accuser made her initial complaint, it was only to head off a classmate who was intent on reporting it, she told the Times.

Still worried about the backlash, she was not fully cooperative once an investigation was begun by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. “I told them I chose to drink, it was my fault, and I couldn’t remember,” she recalled. “The N.C.I.S. agent told me, ‘Just because you were drinking doesn’t give them the right.’ ”

Burke told CNN last month that it was inappropriate for naval investigators to stop the investigation when the accuser withdrew the complaint because a "large body of evidence," including interviews and social media postings, documented the alleged crime. But a Naval Academy spokesman "said no final investigative report has been submitted to the academy's superintendent, who would decide whether any charges should be filed." Now that they have been, each of the three accused faces a charge of "rape, sexual assault or other sexual misconduct," and another for "making a false official statement," AP reports.