Justice, honor at academy

Rape trial: Outcome of case should not send the wrong message to women and midshipmen.

March 19, 2001

THE THREE midshipmen accused of raping a female classmate walked free. Their cases were put on the Anne Arundel County Circuit Court's inactive docket and probably will disappear in three years, based on an agreement between them and prosecutors. By legal definition, they are innocent because they have not been proved guilty.

The three former defendants, starters on the U.S. Naval Academy football team, have left the school while their accuser, a junior, stays.

The woman's mother predicted that the result would discourage women from bringing rape charges in the future. That's especially true at the Naval Academy, according to a sexual-assault center director.

Clearly, officials at the academy have some work to do. This unsettling message must be countered -- loud and clear.

The school launched a character-development program six years ago, in the midst of a series of misconduct episodes, to teach midshipmen about ethical behavior. The program needs to be monitored and refined when necessary.

A strong character-development program is essential because the Naval Academy, though highly selective, can't guarantee that every one of its recruits will have the highest moral convictions. In recent years, midshipmen have cheated, stolen cars and used drugs.

And now rape charges have been brought and put aside.

Let the record show that the overwhelming majority of midshipmen in Annapolis stay out of trouble.

Now that the former defendants are gone, the Naval Academy brass must concentrate on those who remain.

Administrators have to send a strong and consistent message to the school's 4,000 men and women that nothing less than appropriate conduct will be tolerated -- both on and off the grounds of the academy.

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