Speak Out!

May 21, 2006

LAST WEEK'S ISSUE: -- The U.S. Naval Academy is pursuing a new tack in its crackdown on sexual harassment and assault: prosecuting a case with a rarely used form of court-martial that might make it easier to win convictions but doesn't mete out jail time to offenders.

The implications are important for the Annapolis military college, which has struggled to reform a culture that a Pentagon task force has deemed hostile to women.

Since 2001, one midshipman out of 37 accused of sexual assault has been convicted. Others faced administrative punishments, including expulsion, but left the academy with clean records.

Trying some cases in a special court-martial, a military trial typically used for misdemeanors that speeds up the judicial process, could change that.

In one of the first tests of the new strategy, senior and former football player Kenny Ray Morrison will face a special court-martial in July. He is charged with indecent assault, indecent acts and conduct unbecoming an officer after a Feb. 4 incident at a Washington hotel.

What do you think of this strategy? Is it worth it to trade no jail time for the conviction?

Gender bias shows in actions

I think the charges are politically motivated, and the Naval Academy is trying to bridge the gender gap. Female students are never held accountable when the accused is found not guilty.

Thirty-seven midshipmen have been accused of sexual assault since 2001, but just one has been convicted. While some were expelled, they left the academy with clean records. They should not be expelled, they should graduate and go on to serve our country.

Devrry Mitchell Coppell, Texas

Include the victim in the process

More options that hold offenders accountable for their behavior is always a good thing, but there are a few issues to be conscious of in terms of utilizing "special court-martials" where offenders might get convicted but serve no jail time.

The first issue is that this option should only be used when traditional prosecution is not possible. Special court-martials should be used as a last resort, not a way to go easy on offenders.

The second issue is to respect the victim's wishes in terms of type of prosecution. The victim is the one who has been violated and she should have a say in how the case is handled. Inclusion of the victim in this process will serve to encourage continued participation by the victim in the criminal justice system. Without the victim, there is no case at all.

Jennifer Pollitt Hill Odenton

The writer is the executive director of the Maryland Coalition Against Sexual Assault.

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