MANHATTAN (CN) – A cadet who says she was raped twice at the Naval Academy claims in Federal Court that when she complained, “only the intervention of (her) parents and her congressman prevented the Academy from wrongly incarcerating her at a mental health facility.”
The Navy cadet is joined as plaintiff by a cadet who says she was raped at West Point. Both women say the Department of Defense and its military academies have a “long-standing pattern” of ignoring sexual assaults, discriminating against women and “encourag(ing) a culture of sexism and misogyny.”
The women sued former Defense Secretary Robert Gates, the secretaries of the Army and Navy, and the former superintendents of West Point and the Naval Academy.
They claim that though the military academies profess to teach the nation’s future military leaders “to hold themselves to the highest standard of ethical conduct,” and “repeatedly claim they have ‘zero tolerance’ for such misconduct, the evidence shows otherwise: that they have high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks, and ‘zero tolerance’ for those who report rape, sexual assault and harassment.”
Since the “zero tolerance” policy was adopted in 1991, rates of sexual assault in the academies have increased, the women say.
Plaintiffs K.M. and A.K. say they were top students and athletes who were recruited by multiple universities, but both left the military academies without graduating because of the sexual assaults.
K.M. claims she was raped by an upperclassman during her freshman year at West Point in 2010. She says the man got her drunk and invited her to his room, where he raped her. She says it was part of a campus culture in which “peer pressure by upperclassman to consume alcohol is pervasive.”
Despite “cultural pressure not to report the rape,” K.M. said she did report it, but received less than assistance from West Point. In fact, she says, she was “forced to empty her perpetrator’s trash every day.”
She soon began to suffer from post-traumatic stress and became depressed and suicidal. She says she resigned from West Point after she was assigned “to do ‘walking hours’ with her perpetrator as a way of punishing her for a minor infraction.”
A.K. says she was raped twice during her 2008 freshman year at The Naval Academy. Both times, she says, she passed out after binge drinking and woke up to find a male classmate “on top of her, penetrating her.”
She did not report either rape immediately, but after developing post-traumatic stress, she sought counseling, and says the Academy counselor “did not encourage [her] to report them to either civilian or military law enforcement.”
After her symptoms worsened and she became suicidal, she says, she reported the rapes to her parents and the Academy. She says, “the Naval Academy decided that [her] mental health issues caused by the rapes precluded her from becoming a commissioned officer,” and forced her to leave school without graduating.
And, she says: “Only the intervention of Ms. (K’s) parents and her congressman prevented the Academy from wrongly incarcerating her at a mental health facility.”
She says both of her rapists graduated and are now Navy officers. “To date, although the investigations are continuing, neither perpetrator has been brought to justice.”
The women claim that the defendants “presided over a dysfunctional system that permits all but a small handful of Academy rapists to avoid any form of incarceration” and that they all had knowledge of and facilitated the culture.
According to the Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military, cited in the complaint, only 1 of the 65 cases of sexual assault reported at the Academies in 2011 led to court martial, and those 65 cases constitute less than 10 percent of the actual, mostly unreported, unwanted sexual contacts.
The sexual assaults are often fueled by alcohol, which the defendants have made no attempts to curtail. The women says in their complaint that “the defendants’ actions are ensuring that the military continues to struggle with rape and sexual assault,” because “the vast majority of the sexual predators graduate from the military academies without any serious consequences, and go on to join and lead the military services,” where in 2010 alone 15,790 sexual assaults were reported.
The complaint also states that the defendants failed to report conviction rates of rape to Congress, which Congress needs to determine if reforms have occurred, and permitted destruction of evidence from forensic examinations.
In 2009 Congress ordered the defendants to establish a centralized Defense Sexual Assault Incidence Database by January 2010, but this database has not been set up, according to the complaint.
In 2008, Secretary of Defense Gates instructed Dr. Kaye Whitney to ignore a congressional subpoena to testify about her efforts to end sexual assault at the Academies, according to the complaint.
The co-chair of the committee asked: “What kind of message does her and the department’s unwillingness until now to allow testimony send to our men and women in uniform? … Is she being muzzled, or is the Department hiding something?” according to the complaint, citing the Sept. 10, 2008 Hearing on Sexual Assault in the Military before the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs.
The plaintiffs seek punitive damages for constitutional violations.
They are represented by Susan Sajadi with Burke PLLC, of Washington, D.C.