Daily Dispatches
Attorney Susan Burke
Associated Press/Photo by Brian Witte
Attorney Susan Burke

Naval Academy rape case highlights growing problem


Three Naval Academy midshipmen may face court martial after a female student accused them of raping her at an alcohol-soaked toga party last year. The case comes as the Department of Defense scrambles to address a record number of reported assaults and high-profile scandals.

The Naval Academy student said she was too drunk to remember what happened in April 2012 at the off-campus party. But in the days after, she heard from fellow students and noticed comments on social media implying she had sex with the three midshipmen. Two of them—Tra’ves Bush and Josh Tate—have been charged with aggravated sexual assault. The other—Eric Graham—has been charged with abusive sexual contact. All three face charges of making false statements to investigators.

Attorneys for the defendants, who were former Naval Academy football players, claim the alleged victim isn’t credible. They pointed to her sexual history during the hearing and said the sex at the toga party was consensual. “Drunk sex is not sexual assault,” said Lt. Cmdr. Angela Tang, Graham’s attorney.

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To complicate matters, Susan Burke, the woman’s attorney, filed a federal lawsuit Thursday asking that academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael Miller step off the case because she claims he is biased against her client. Burke said he allowed the woman to undergo more than 30 hours of graphic cross-examination by three defense attorneys.

“He acted from bias because his own career interests in being perceived as a strong leader of the academy were at stake,” the lawsuit claims. Miller would be called to order the court martial if recommended by the investigating officer.

The hearing has garnered national attention amid other military sexual assault scandals and rising numbers of reported assaults. The Department of Defense reported 3,374 sexual assault reports in the military in 2012, a record high and a six percent increase from 2011.

The biggest sexual assault scandal took place at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, from 2009 to 2012. More than 60 Air Force trainees reported being raped or assaulted by their training officers. So far, 26 officers have faced court martials. One was acquitted.

After a Government Accountability Office report claimed the military wasn’t doing enough for assault victims, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently announced new policies, including more uniform victim advocacy programs across all military branches, unit transfers for service members accused of assault, and a mandate that investigating officers must be lawyers.

But Family Research Council’s Bob Maginnis told USA Today  the real problem is that the military is unprepared for putting more men and women in close quarters amid an easing of sexual standards: “Mixing the sexes in forced intimate, lonely places for long periods leads to relationships and sadly, in some cases to sexual assaults, even in the most disciplined units.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Michael Reneau
Michael Reneau

Michael Reneau is the assistant managing editor of a newspaper in East Tennessee, where he lives with his wife and two sons. He is a graduate of the WORLD Journalism Institute's mid-career course. Follow Michael on Twitter @MichaelReneau.


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