Academy assault cases up sharply

45 sex crimes alleged in 4 years

progress cited in changing attitudes

March 07, 2006|By BRADLEY OLSON AND ANDREA F. SIEGEL | BRADLEY OLSON AND ANDREA F. SIEGEL,SUN REPORTERS

The number of sexual assault allegations lodged by midshipmen at the Naval Academy has risen sharply over the past four years, and only two have resulted in a court-martial and conviction, according to an internal compilation by the Annapolis military college.

A total of 45 sexual assaults were alleged in the period, and most were either deemed unfounded or handled administratively with an expulsion or lesser punishment.

The figures, prepared last fall as part of a presentation to midshipmen, faculty and staff, and obtained yesterday by The Sun, show four cases were reported in the 2001-2002 academic year and 17 in 2004-2005. Academy officials and victim advocates say the spike could be explained by reforms that encouraged women to report the crimes and might not necessarily represent an increase in rapes.

One expert said the number of cases is not out of line with civilian colleges, although expectations are higher for the nation's military colleges because of their selective admissions and emphasis on strict honor codes.

The academy is grappling with a recent spate of sex crime allegations. In the most recent case, the quarterback of last season's bowl-winning Navy football team was charged in February with raping a fellow midshipman in the academy's dormitory, Bancroft Hall. The player, Lamar S. Owens Jr., was charged with rape and other crimes. An article 32 hearing, akin to a civilian grand jury hearing, is set for tomorrow in that case. Owens' attorney says the player is not guilty.

Two other sex cases have subsequently emerged. Another football player is being investigated -- but has not been charged -- in the alleged rape of a fellow midshipman in a Washington hotel, while a member of the crew team has been recommended for dismissal related to an alleged consensual sexual encounter.

Meanwhile, academy officials yesterday told a civilian oversight board -- which includes both of Maryland's U.S. senators -- that progress has been made in combating sexual harassment and assaults on campus.

A Pentagon task force last year sharply faulted what it said were "hostile attitudes" toward women at the academy, as well as midshipmen, echoing the findings of earlier studies prompted by several high-profile incidents.

Most of the 243 recommendations of that task force and six others commissioned to delve into gender issues at the academy over the past 15 years have been implemented, Capt. Jennetta White, the academy's sexual assault response coordinator, told the board, which met on campus.

White said she was encouraged by the academy's progress but noted some holdups, including having midshipmen assume more accountability for their actions.

"We have a ways to go to get midshipmen to hold each other accountable," she said.

Brigade Cmdr. J.T. Kadz, the highest-ranking midshipman, said, "As far as the way midshipmen speak and act, I really have seen improvement in the way that we're talking to each other."

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, who sat on a commission that investigated a 1989 incident in which a female midshipman was photographed handcuffed to a urinal, noted improvements since then in the culture and how women are treated.

"So, the overall climate of the academy has been better," Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, said at yesterday's meeting. "And this is where I think there's been marked improvement."

In the wake of the Owens case, the academy had declined to release the number of other cases it has dealt with. But the internal review, assembled Oct. 19, showed a steady increase over the four-year period.

The offenses are defined as "non-consensual, sexual acts" and range from fondling to rape. Of the 45, 27 were rapes.

In the last school year, three of the cases were deemed "indecent touching," three were "indecent acts," and 11 were identified as rapes.

The review does not detail how the cases were adjudicated, other than the two that resulted in convictions.

Cmdr. Rod Gibbons, spokesman for the academy, declined to confirm the numbers in the report, saying that "revelation of data ... serves as a deterrent to victim reporting."

"One incident of sexual harassment is too many," he said. "Sexual assault is widely recognized as the most underreported crime in the nation. The Naval Academy seeks to encourage reporting so that we can provide support to the victim, hold perpetrators accountable and preclude revictimization. ... If we are successful, then we should expect an increase in the number of reports."

Delilah Rumburg, co-chairman of the Pentagon task force that criticized the culture at the academy last year, said that the numbers of cases is likely going up because women are finally comfortable reporting them.

"I think the numbers will go up, and that's a good thing," she said. "We should expect them to go up in the next few years."

She also said the academy's numbers are comparable to most colleges and universities, although it's right to expect more from service academies.

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