‘Were you wearing a bra?’ Rape accuser at US Naval Academy faces aggressive and withering questioning on the hearing stand
The pre-trial hearings in a military courtroom at the U.S. Naval Academy have exposed a Navy midshipman who has accused three academy football players of rape to pointed cross-examination of the kind a civilian accuser wouldn’t face, according to news reports covering the case.
Under defense questioning over the last four days, the accuser has been asked by defense attorneys how wide she opens her mouth during oral sex, how many times a day she lies, whether or not she was wearing underwear or a bra, and other questions that experts interviewed by the Washington Post say would never be allowed in a civilian courtroom.
Unlike a civilian court, an Article 32 hearing — the military’s version of a grand jury — is open to the public. Also unlike a grand jury, the hearing allows for defense attorneys to cross-examine witnesses, including the accuser.
An annual Pentagon study last month estimated that unwanted sexual contact, from groping to rape, jumped by 37 percent in 2012 to 26,000 cases.
Her attorney, Susan Burke, filed suit Thursday against the academy and Academy Superintendent Vice Adm. Michael H. Miller on her client’s behalf, arguing that the timing and nature of the cross-examination were a form of retaliation directed by Miller. Burke is seeking a court order compelling Miller to refrain from further interference in the case.
The suit alleges that “the Superintendent wanted to sweep the matter under the rug to prevent any reputational harm to the Academy,” and assured her client that “the investigation likely would just ‘go away’ if she signed a declination and refused to cooperate.”
Under pressure from the school and one of the football players, the accuser did not cooperate with an initial investigation but was subsequently ostracized and retaliated against by the football players and the Naval Academy community, Burke said in earlier statements. The academy subsequently disciplined her client for drinking. The accuser sought legal help and the attention of the media in early 2013 and the Navy reopened the investigation, Burke said.
The case stems from charges leveled in June 2012 against three U.S. Naval Academy football players charged with raping a female midshipman and making false statements. The Article 32 proceeding determines if the charges will proceed to a general court-martial. The accuser, a 21-year-old midshipman at the academy who has not been named in major media reports, alleges that she was raped after getting drunk and passing out at an off-campus party in April 2012 in Annapolis, Maryland, site of the elite school.
Burke said in a statement earlier this year that her client “woke up at the football house the next morning with little recall of what had occurred. She learned from friends and social media that three football players were claiming to have had sexual intercourse with her while she was incapacitated.”