Despite sex charges, Mids can't lock rooms Army, Air Force let cadets lock doors after complaints

July 24, 1996|By JoAnna Daemmrich and Scott Shane | JoAnna Daemmrich and Scott Shane,SUN STAFF

Six years ago, after female West Point cadets complained in a survey about uninvited late-night visits from male classmates, the U.S. Military Academy installed chain locks on all dormitory rooms.

Two years ago, the Air Force Academy followed suit and added deadbolt locks to dormitory doors.

Yet despite reports of nighttime intrusions by male midshipmen into female classmates' rooms -- some resulting in sexual assault -- the Naval Academy is sticking by its policy requiring that rooms remain unlocked at night.

The tradition of unlocked doors is drawing new scrutiny as four women testify this week against a top-ranked classmate, Scott Ward. Each has alleged that Ward, 23, of Grand Rapids, Mich., went into her room at night and committed offenses ranging from fondling to rape.

Last year, another midshipman, sophomore Stephen J. Ciccarelli III, was expelled after three young women accused him of entering their rooms while intoxicated and assaulting them.

Students in newly renovated sections of Bancroft Hall, the huge dormitory housing all 3,400 male and 540 female midshipmen, are being provided with keys for the first time, Capt. Thomas Jurkowsky, an academy spokesman, said yesterday. They will be allowed to lock their doors during the day to prevent theft while construction work is going on, he said.

But academy officials do not consider unwanted late-night visits sufficiently widespread to warrant a change in the policy on unlocked rooms at night, he said.

"We don't see it as a serious, pervasive type of problem," Jurkowsky said.

Midshipmen can request special permission to lock their doors at night, though few have done so. If there are more complaints, the academy may consider a change, Jurkowsky said.

"For time upon time, the doors were always open. There wasn't a theft problem. There wasn't an assault problem. Maybe this is something we have to take a harder look at, but we just don't see it as widespread," he said.

More than a dozen women interviewed by The Sun, however, said they had experienced unwanted visits or knew women who had. Most of them described incidents that were annoying or even frightening but fell short of the allegations of assault against Ward.

The third-ranked midshipman, Ward was arrested and jailed in April but no longer faces criminal charges. This week's hearing is to determine whether he should be expelled or face other punishment.

Meanwhile, the academy has informed one of his accusers, Naomi Jackson, that she is under investigation for fabricating her assault charge and told another she may be charged with "fraternizing" with Ward.

The Ward case has brought congressional and public attention to the problems women still face at Annapolis, 20 years after they first arrived.

Rep. Wayne T. Gilchrest, a Maryland Republican who serves on the academy's governing board, said yesterday that he would ask officials at the next board meeting to reconsider the unlocked-door policy.

"I think they ought to lock the doors or put the women on another floor, where you can't get access to it unless you're a woman," Gilchrest said. "The Naval Academy has to get rid of yesterday's problems."

Rep. Sue W. Kelly, a New York Republican who is following the Ward case closely on behalf of Jackson, a track star from her district, also criticized the policy.

Kelly "thinks locking doors should be an option available to both men and women," said Dan Boston, her press spokesman. "It's just common sense."

While the Ciccarelli and Ward cases pointed to potential consequences of leaving doors unlocked, they are far from the only instances of men's dropping in on sleeping women, according to female midshipmen and recent graduates.

"During the middle of the night, my roommate and I would sometimes awake to see our doors slowly open, then close. We were not the only women to experience this," said a Navy pilot who graduated from the academy in 1992.

Once, she saw the figure of a male midshipman silhouetted in the door and demanded loudly what he was doing. He stammered that he was looking for another military company, on the other side of the dorm, and quickly left, she said.

Megan Gerstenfeld, a May graduate now in the Marine Corps, expressed the ambivalence many midshipmen feel about breaking with the tradition of unlocked doors. Nonetheless, she said in a recent interview that students should have the option of locking their rooms.

"The idea is this is where we live, and you're all honorable people, so having a lock on the door defeats that purpose," she said. "People go to someone's room to study or play cards or whatever. But I know it has happened that guys come into women's rooms."

At West Point, the installation of chain locks in 1990 followed similar complaints, said Col. Patrick A. Toffler, director of policy, planning and analysis.

"We found in surveys that several women reported that after lights out, someone had entered their rooms uninvited," Toffler said. The then commandant of cadets, Gen. David A. Bramlett, ordered the chains put on.

"He just felt if there was one incident, it was too much," Toffler said. "There's no reason we can't do this to make people feel secure. If that gives you a little peace of mind, it's well worth it."

The Air Force Academy's decision to install deadbolt locks in 1994 was based on the wishes of both male and female cadets, said spokeswoman Terry Barretta.

"The cadets' rooms are their home away from home, and they should be able to have privacy," she said.

Pub Date: 7/24/96

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