Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Naval Academy Probes Sex-Assault Allegation by Female Midshipman Charges Surface as Military Faces Increased Scrutiny

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Naval Academy Probes Sex-Assault Allegation by Female Midshipman Charges Surface as Military Faces Increased Scrutiny

Article excerpt

WASHINGTON -- The U.S. Naval Academy is investigating allegations that three of the school's football players sexually assaulted a female midshipman at a party last year -- an explosive allegation that surfaced Friday as the military faces increased scrutiny over whether it pursues such cases aggressively enough.

The investigation, led by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, has not yielded any arrests, an academy spokesman said. Susan Burke, an attorney for the woman, said the incident occurred at an off-campus "football house" in Annapolis, Md.

The female midshipman got drunk and passed out, Ms. Burke said, and woke up remembering little from the party. "She learned from friends and social media that three football players were claiming to have had sexual intercourse with her while she was incapacitated," the attorney said in a statement.

Ms. Burke has taken on similar cases and is urging Congress to change the law so military prosecutors, instead of commanders who are legally untrained, have the power to decide whether sexual assault cases should go to trial. The Senate Armed Services Committee has set a hearing Tuesday on that proposal and related bills. Members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other senior military officers are scheduled to testify.

A recent Pentagon survey estimated that 26,000 service members experienced "unwanted sexual contact" last year, although only 3,374 reports of sexual assault were recorded. One recent case, involving a former Naval Academy history instructor, went to court-martial this week. Marine Corps Maj. Mark Thompson, 43, is charged with aggravated sexual assault amid allegations that he had sex last year with students while playing drinking games and strip poker.

President Barack Obama addressed sexual assaults in the military while speaking to Naval Academy graduates last week. "It only takes the misconduct of a few to further erode people's trust in their government," he said in his commencement address May 24 at Navy- Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

Lt. Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, told reporters Friday that three football players were under investigation in the matter. Military officials released few other details about the allegations and declined to identify the players.

Naval Academy spokesman John Schofield said it would be inappropriate to discuss specifics of the case, because doing so would "risk compromising the military justice process. …

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