Tactics at Navy Academy rape hearings raise questions
- Article by: JENNIFER STEINHAUER
- New York Times
- September 20, 2013 - 7:43 PM
WASHINGTON – For roughly 30 hours over several days, defense lawyers for three former U.S. Naval Academy football players grilled a female midshipman about her sexual habits. In a public hearing, they asked the woman, who has accused the three athletes of raping her, whether she wore a bra, how wide she opened her mouth during oral sex and whether she had apologized to another midshipman with whom she had intercourse “for being a ho.”
The aggressive tactics on display this month and last are part of a case that has raised alarms about what are called Article 32 proceedings, which help determine whether cases are sent to courts-martial. Article 32 hearings permit questions not allowed in civilian courts and can include cross-examinations of witnesses so intense that legal experts say they frighten many victims.
Time to ‘get rid of it’
“These have become their own trials,” said Jonathan Lurie, a professor emeritus of legal history at Rutgers University and the author of two books on military justice. “If this is what Article 32 has come to be, then it is time to either get rid of it or put real restrictions on the conduct during them.”
More broadly, the case illuminates what critics say is wrong with trying sexual assault cases in the current military justice system, which is under scrutiny in Congress. One bill to be debated this fall, sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., would take the prosecution of sexual assault cases outside a victim’s chain of command.
Case stems from yoga and toga party
In the coming weeks, the military judge who presided over the hearing will send a recommendation to the Naval Academy’s superintendent on how the charges should be disposed of. The superintendent, Vice Adm. Michael Miller, will decide whether to move to a court-martial or drop the case.
The case stems from a 2012 “yoga and toga” off-campus party near the academy in Annapolis, Md., where the woman, then a 20-year-old sophomore, arrived intoxicated and continued to drink, she said. The next day, the woman testified, she heard from a friend of one of the three football players that she had had sex with them. The football players — Tra’ves Bush, 22; Eric Graham, 21; and Joshua Tate, 21 — were charged with sexually assaulting her and making false statements.
The Joint Service Committee on Military Justice, which reviews potential changes to military law, is considering a proposal that would give sexual assault victims in Article 32 hearings new protections.
© 2013 Star Tribune