Rape hearing casts light on Naval Academy's culture

The drinking began even before they left for the party. Seven shots of coconut rum, give or take, the female midshipman would say later. Straight from the bottle.

Invites to the "toga and yoga" party at the illicit off-campus football house had been hard to come by. But more than 100 young people - many of them athletes at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. - still crammed themselves into every corner of the split-level they had nicknamed "the Black Pineapple." In the yard, a princess-themed moon bounce eventually busted under the weight of the midshipmen jumping on it.

More than a year later, the details of that night in April 2012 were conjured again and again in a hearing room at the Washington Navy Yard, where prosecutors attempted to prove that three former Navy football players sexually assaulted a female midshipman at the party.

The hearing, which concluded Tuesday, will help determine whether the case goes to a court-martial. Its outcome is still weeks away, but the testimony provided a sometimes unflattering glimpse into the culture of the Naval Academy, one of the country's storied training grounds for military leaders.

The 11 midshipmen who took the witness stand described a world of binge drinking, casual sex, social-media harassment and lying - behaviors that can be found on any other college campus. But for some alumni, it was a disturbing portrait of an institution that imposes strict rules on aspiring young officers whose educations are funded by U.S. taxpayers.

"One cannot cast these behaviors aside and say, 'They're just college students,' " one self-described academy graduate commented online on a Washington Post story about the hearing. "Midshipmen are first and foremost leaders in training who are necessarily held to a higher standard. Would you want any of them as your son's or daughter's division officer aboard a ship? I think not."

Sharon Hanley Disher, who was among the first women admitted to Annapolis and whose twin children graduated from the academy in 2010, said she found the case "sad and disappointing."

Cmdr. John Schofield, an academy spokesman, said the school's mission is "to train and educate midshipmen to set an example and to lead the Navy and Marine Corps. The overwhelming majority of our midshipmen are setting an example and doing the right thing."


Still, the transgressions exposed at the hearing have people questioning whether the pressures and constraints placed on midshipmen are part of the problem.

"There are a lot of needless restrictions," said Bruce Fleming, an English professor who has taught at the academy for 27 years. As a result, "there is a 'get back at the man' mentality."

A 2006 study of alcohol abuse at the Naval Academy found that a higher proportion of midshipmen interviewed reported binge drinking in the previous six months than students at civilian colleges did over the course of a year. The participants blamed the limited opportunities to let loose, according to the study, which Lt. Cmdr. Lydia Doye, a Naval Academy graduate and former intervention liaison for sexual-assault victims, conducted for her graduate-school thesis. This fueled a need to "make up for lost time," the study said, and tended to "feed more intense drinking."

The academy has been battling binge drinking for years, and officials said they have made progress. The number of midshipmen disciplined for alcohol-related incidents fell by 70 percent between 2010 and 2013, Schofield said.

Prohibitions against drinking extend to all freshmen, including those who are 21. Midshipmen cannot have alcohol in their dormitory, Bancroft Hall. The purpose of the rules is to mimic the conditions graduates will face once they are commissioned and deployed, academy officials said.

Midshipmen are policed as soon as they choose to attend. They are given a drug and alcohol test upon their induction, Schofield said. Any candidate with a blood alcohol content of 0.05 percent or above is sent for a medical evaluation. Anyone who tests positive for drugs is kicked out on the spot.

Since 2010, midshipmen have been subject to random breath tests. They also get an earful from an alcohol and drug education officer before and after summer leave, and before spring break.

Once a month, midshipmen turning 21 take part in "Responsible Use '21st Birthday' Dinner Training," where they get up to two alcoholic drinks with dinner in a banquet room at the academy, learn how to compute their blood alcohol content and get a breath test.

The consequences for getting caught drunk or sneaking in a six-pack are demerits or, depending on the circumstances, expulsion.

Sex is also highly restricted. Male and female midshipmen have to keep the door open when they are in the same room in Bancroft Hall. And no sexual contact is allowed on the academy grounds. "That includes everything from hand-holding to the wildest orgies," Fleming said.


To evade the rules, athletes on a number of teams pool their money and rent off-campus houses, where they can drink and have sex. Before it was shut down by academy officials, the Black Pineapple served as a retreat for the football players and their friends. Team members were renting the house on Witmer Court in Rolling Hills for $2,200 a month, according to an online ad posted about a year ago.

Fleming has argued for years that the unforgiving environment on campus leads to unintended consequences and that banning consensual sex undermines sexual-assault prevention efforts. Twenty percent of midshipmen are women.

"We can't teach them about sexual assault when everything is tarred with the same moral brush," he said.

Sexual-assault reports at the academy went down by nine to 15 during the 2011-12 academic year, the latest Defense Department data show.

Disher and others do not see the strict rules or high standards as excuses for alcohol abuse or bad judgment. The midshipmen "know they are under extra pressure," Disher said, "and consequently they should act more appropriately."

Even so, midshipmen are keenly aware that many of their friends who go to ordinary colleges have sex and go to parties with little fear of administrative reprisals. "It's a strange little world," Fleming said.

The fear of being disciplined or kicked out of the academy has created an unspoken agreement among midshipmen that they will protect each other, the 2006 study found. Snitching is considered among the worst things that a midshipman can do.

"The small number of midshipmen who have turned in their shipmates have been shunned by their classmates, whether or not the complaint was valid," the study said. "The consequences of turning someone in are much greater than just 'letting it go.' "


The female midshipman who prosecutors say was sexually assaulted at the 2012 party initially refused to cooperate with investigators. (The Washington Post generally does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault.) The woman, now 21, testified that she did not remember much about that night and did not want to get anyone in trouble.

She also described working in tandem with one of the classmates accused of raping her, Eric Graham, to try to "squash" rumors of the alleged assault, which were circulating on campus. Graham, 21, of Eight Mile, Ala., is charged with abusive sexual contact. Two other former football players, Tra'ves Bush, 22, of Johnston, S.C., and Joshua Tate, 21, of Nashville are charged with aggravated sexual assault. All three midshipmen have been charged with making false statements about their involvement that night. They have denied any wrongdoing.

Their accuser said she begged friends not to report the alleged incident and volunteered for punishment for underage drinking. But at least one friend refused to keep quiet, triggering the investigation.

The night of the party, the alleged victim was drinking heavily and was counting on her classmates to look out for her, she said. Before they left Bancroft, she and her best friend had agreed to be "battle buddies" and keep each other safe.

While dancing, she fell, and a few of her girlfriends quickly helped her back up. But somehow they became separated. One of them later described searching for her in the house as the party was breaking up. The moon bounce had popped, and the stragglers were being hustled out the door.

But the midshipman's friends did not hear from her until the next day when she called to ask, "Hey, do you know what happened?"

Posted to: Military

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keeping the door open in a new navy

"Male and female midshipmen have to keep the door open when they are in the same room in Bancroft Hall." That regulation is outdated now that gays and lesbians may serve openly. The doors should be kept open when a gay or lesbian enters the room of a same sex person now, too.

Rape is a deplorable crime But: If an individual willingly drink

to the point "they don't know what actually happened" they effectively make it impossible to prove they were raped "beyond a reasonable doubt".

I would willingly damn a rapist to a life behind bars but I can't in good conscience wish the punishment on someone when the only "witness" to the crime can't actually say she (or he) was raped & not due to a date rape drug.

We can't prove rape because we think it may have happened.

Regretting something the morning after doesn't constitute rape.

Common sense rule of self preservation: "Protect yourself at all times". Willingly getting stupid drunk is degrading and indefensible on its own merit.

The midshipmen (woman) let herself down and was a bad steward of her own self preservation.

nvydvr: I see your point but disagree

...I don't think it's right to blame the victim of an alleged crime. The midshipman who insisted on reporting the incident should be commended regardless of the outcome of the case. Even if the alleged victim was intoxicated, not only did her buddy system fail, midshipmen (allegedly) took advantage of a basically unconscious person, and that is truly disgusting. If found guilty, they should never be allowed to wear the Navy uniform. Off site locations have been used at the academy for a long time, including one scandal that involved all female athletes and some female instructors. The academy tries to keep it hushed up rather than confront all the issues in a serious way.

Non (including her) involved should ever wear the Navy uniform!

There is no excuse for anyone willingly getting that drunk and by doing so she offered herself as a potential victim. While I don't excuse the crime of rape against someone that is drunk the truth is she is the only one responsible for not being able to be a witness to the crime because she effectively "roofied" herself.

There may have been a rape but we (nor her) will never know for sure without a witness or evidence. If she had actually been "roofied" by one of the alleged rapists than that could be used as evidence to convict.

A person gets drunk, hits a tree. Do we blame the car, booze, tree, or the driver who got intoxicated. That can happen if you drink too much & drive.

She effectively drove her body into a tree.

nvydvr: I blame the alleged rapists

A tree isn't capable of taking a person to another room and assaulting them. Hers certainly is a lesson about personal behavior and responsibility, too, but I think a reasonable midshipman that night would have expected to get drunk and perhaps have a consensual relationship, hut not be gang raped when effectively unconscious.

I absolutly agree but we can't say that is what happened.

She may have been conscious, unconscious, or somewhere inbetween. She may have consented, she may have actually invited sex with multiple partners, or maybe not.

A tree can't cause a rape or an accident and a person who doesn't get themselves stupid drunk could tell us what actually happened.

Even she can't say if the sex was non consensual. Most civilized people would believe that passing a woman around like a hat is repulsive and would likely think it would be rape but putting our moral ideals aside the circumstances don't on their own merit indicate rape.

The only thing that is for sure is that she is a victim of her own regretful actions & that is all that can be proven.

About every 10 years for the last 30

this type of issue surfaces in the news about the Navy. Each time the Navy says it is doing something about it. If they are, then why do we keep hearing about it?

Toss the whole disgraceful bunch out of the Navy,

and fire the superintendent, too.

As a three-star admiral, he is allegedly capable of commanding a fleet.

Yet, he has been outwitted and outsmarted by a bunch of irresponsible young people. He has failed as a leader.

The responsibility for this shameful episode falls as much on his shoulders as it does on theirs.

So much for the honor code!

Snitching? Are these future leaders or future third graders? Or are they future thugs? In this article we get a glimpse into why we see so many senior military officers committing sex crimes at their commands.

These midshipmen are obviously not being versed in discipline. Boot them out with dishonorable discharges.

The military is always a reflection of the society it represents

They all (including the victim) are a mirror reflection of the generation they represent.

"Or are they future thugs"... Not future thugs. they likely were wannabe thugs long before they entered the academy. The "Thugs & Hoes" persona is popular in that generation's culture.

The alleged victim had/has no code of personal accountability.

The alleged perpetrators have no moral code that would prevent them from objectifying and exploiting a woman using behavior that is personified in pop culture and thug music.

Conviction or not. All involved (alleged victim too) have proven themselves unfit to lead anybody, especially Marines & Sailors, and should be dismissed immediately.

Those are

nothing but spoiled college kids, away from home, on someone's dime, playing hard. Some are smart enough to make it and possibly become good officers. Some are just too stupid to shape up and don't ship out. Weed em out before they get to the fleet and play 'big boy'.....

USNA Honor Code

Given the media stories about COs, XOs, and CMCs behaving badly, this sad story about "middies" behaving badly is not out of the ordinary. Soon, this type of behavior in the United States Navy would be the norm and no longer command the attention of the public, if and when reported by the media. The USNA, like the other tax-payer funded academies, is anachronism today and should be closed. There was once a midshipman's "Honor Code." Now, there's a "Midshipmen Honor Concept." The last three POTUS, or Commanders-in-Chief, would not pass muster on the former but will be acceptable on the latter. Clinton cheated on his wife, Bush lied to the American people, and Obama is lying now.

Academies a tragic farce

Any college or university with that many sexual assaults, year after year, is dangerous. It hosts a rape epidemic. All the service academies do. The behavior described in the story, from renting a party house (with likely disregard for the neighbors) to higher alcohol abuse than most schools to sexual assault to lying to cover one another's butts is disgraceful, creating a culture that has long infected and twisted our military. The academies, still framed in ancient, do it dammit, my way or the highway pettiness, miss the big picture and the dangers it as a result creates. The best officers, year after year, come out of our ROTC programs, not our very, very twisted service academies.


I have read this story and one of the main topics that stands out is lying and making false statements, you can not trust these three guys at all, because they know they did wrong and want admit to it. I still say that none of them should be able to remain in the academy, and the reason is obvious none of them can be trusted with our kids in the fleet, I would not want either of them trying to councel my child. I think that the academy needs to take action immediately and not tolerate this kind of behavior.

The Best Officers

Where did you get that information, SeeFuture? Is that from hard facts or anecdotal evidence? Regardless, "best" in this case is merely an opinion anyway, and I don't think you can actually quantify it. There are bad officers from all the programs, as well as excellent ones. Not sure any of them has a monopoly on either type.

One lie and you're out....

There are professions, if you will, where if you lie you are out, period! No negotiating, no excuses, one lie and you are gone.

Can't we expect the same from our so-called future officers, men and women who will be making life and death decisions for our citizens serving in the armed forces.

I think most of us have always looked-up to folks who had graduated from our military academies. No longer for me if this kind of behavior is tolerated.

They have no honor.

Oh, well.....

This Tells the Tale

"The 11 midshipmen who took the witness stand described a world of binge drinking, casual sex, social-media harassment and lying - behaviors that can be found on any other college campus"

So why do we wonder how senior Naval Officers seem to falter at an alarming rate. This type of moral relativism argument explains it. It's happen everywhere so it's ok to happen here. Sounds like nothing sets the USNA apart from other colleges so why not close it and get your officers from NROTC and OCS programs? Imagine the taxpayer savings.

Typical shoddy reporting

This article leaves out a few important facts. First, one of the alleged rapists had a prior "casual sexual relationship" with the alleged victim. Second, the alleged victim had consensual sex with someone else the following morning. These facts alone put the situation into an entirely different context.

This is a typical story of morning after regret.

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