Off-campus houses a long-standing problem for Naval Academy

Sexual assaults alleged after raucous parties held in rentals

September 07, 2013|By Pamela Wood and Yvonne Wenger, The Baltimore Sun

Funneling a beer through a bong is Anne Kendzior's last memory of a night of partying inside a sparsely furnished off-campus house rented for Naval Academy lacrosse players. She says she crashed on an air mattress in a bedroom sometime around 1 a.m. and awoke on that fall day in 2008 to a fellow midshipman raping her, according to court documents and an interview.

The onetime Texas high school soccer star says she remembers asking in a haze, "What are you doing?" but she would allegedly suffer another sexual assault and consider suicide before ever speaking to authorities. "I couldn't tell anyone what I was feeling on the inside; I was so scared," said Kendzior, now 23, who has sued the academy and senior military leaders.

Kendzior's case mirrors recent allegations of sexual assault among Naval Academy midshipmen — and highlights long-standing problems associated with off-campus rentals that violate academy regulations. Such houses, which have brought alcohol- and sex-fueled parties to quiet Annapolis communities, often are leased by athletes or by groups of friends, according to Naval Academy staff, alumni and neighbors.

"That's standard operating procedure here," academy English professor Bruce Fleming said, adding that over the years, he's heard of many off-campus rentals, including lacrosse houses and baseball houses. "The students talk about it all the time. That's where they take the girls."

Academy officials say they shut down off-campus houses when they learn about them. Having such a house is a conduct violation that can lead to punishments ranging from loss of off-campus liberty to expulsion.

Jabaree Tuani, who was co-captain of the football team, said last year that he was among four Mids punished for renting the house at which a 2012 sexual assault is alleged to have occurred. Three football players have been implicated in that case.

Such houses have been linked to problems over the years.

A scandal involving midshipmen's use of the synthetic marijuana "spice" was also linked to an off-campus party house, according to reports in The Baltimore Sun at the time. Academy officials concluded last year that the use of "spice" was not widespread, but 16 midshipmen were expelled.

And a 2001 alleged rape involving midshipmen — which Anne Arundel County officials chose not to prosecute after the suspects resigned from the academy — occurred at an off-campus party in Arnold, The Sun reported.

The most recent allegations, involving football players Tra'ves Bush, Joshua Tate and Eric Graham, have brought national attention to the Naval Academy and stoked debate about whether the military is doing enough to stop sexual assaults among the ranks. President Barack Obama raised the issue during his commencement address at the academy in May, when he said sexual assaults undermine the military's strength.

The allegations also focused on the decades-old tradition of midshipmen renting nearby homes to avoid rules prohibiting most drinking and sexual activity — underscoring the difficulty academy officials face in strictly regulating social behavior among students.

Over the past two weeks, a military hearing officer spent eight days hearing about accusations that the football players sexually assaulted a female classmate who got drunk at "the black pineapple," a rented split-level about six miles from the academy.

On the night of the party in April 2012, the accuser testified that the house and yard were packed with partygoers. She drank straight from a bottle of rum and took to the dance floor to "grind" to R&B songs with her classmates. She drank so much that she has little memory of the night, and through rumors and posts on social media pieced together that she might have been sexually assaulted.

The Baltimore Sun does not normally identify alleged victims of sexual assault; Kendzior has gone public with her story in hopes of raising awareness of the issue.

'They look the other way'

Kendzior filed a lawsuit last year in U.S. District Court in Maryland against the academy and senior military leaders, saying they failed to protect midshipmen from a culture that condones rampant sexual harassment, according to court documents.

Kendzior said in an interview last week that she was invited to the "lacrosse house" party by sophomores and juniors on the women's soccer team but that when she arrived the upperclassmen weren't there. They had asked her, "Do you want to come and hang with us, and drink a little bit?" Kendzior recalled.

Her father, Russell Kendzior of Southlake, Texas, is skeptical of academy athletic officials who claimed to have no knowledge about the illicit off-campus party houses. "This is beyond belief," he said. "These team houses are strictly forbidden — they all know they exist, but they look the other way."

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