Master Sgt. Ronald E. Bohlayer was charged this week with raping a 23-year-old Washington, D.C. woman last July in the Marine Barracks just a few blocks from the U.S. Capitol, a move that his attorney claims is due to the increased “publicity” given to military sexual assaults recently.
"In my head, I thought, these are people who are supposed to be protecting me," Karalen Morthole told NBC's Michael Isikoff in an interview broadcast on Friday. "I thought that the Marine Barracks was a place where I would be protected from the streets outside."
Morthole told NBC News that she had been out at the Ugly Mug, a bar in D.C.'s Capitol Hill neighborhood, following a July 3 Nationals baseball game. There she met up with a number of Marines, one of whom invited her back to the Barracks when the bar closed. She said that Bohlayer, a 21-year Marine Corps veteran who was awarded the Bronze Star in Afghanistan in 2010, began forcing himself on her, "pinning" her against the wall while repeating, "I’m going to (blank) you."
After the rape, Morthole said Bohlayer tried accompany her to her house in a cab, but when she refused, "he got within six inches of my face and started screaming obscenities at me, which prompted the guard I was standing next to to hold up his arm and say, 'Stand down.'"
Morthole said she went to a local hospital about a week after the incident then later reported the assault to the Washington, D.C. police. After testifying before a civilian grand jury, a prosecutor told her that her case "amounted to a he-said-she-said" case and would not go forward.
But because the assault occurred on a military installation and was alledgedly committed by an active duty service member, it was also investigated by Bohlayer's chain of command under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.
"After hearing the testimony of Ms. Morthole and all the relevant witnesses, the investigating officer found that the allegations of sexual assault and rape were baseless," Bohlayer attorney, Maj. Joseph Grimm, told NBC News. "The Investigating Officer subsequently recommended that the sexual assault and rape charges be dismissed." However, the investigating officer had recommended that lesser charges be brought against Bohlayer.
But this week Maj. Gen. James A. Kessler overrode the investigating officer's conclusion and decided that Bohlayer should be court marshaled for charges of rape, indecent exposure and disorderly conduct. Grimm alleges the decision to carry through with the charges may have been influenced by "wide publicity about sexual assaults in the military."
Congress agreed to add several reforms to a defense spending authorization bill this week, including stripping military commanders of the ability to unilaterally courts marshall convictions and eliminate the five year statute of limitations on charges of sexual assault and sexual assault of a child.
However, many victims' advocates were disappointed that Armed Services Chair Sen. Carl Levin (D-MI) decided not to add an amendement sponsored by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) to the bill that would have taken the responsibility of deciding whether to pursue a sexual assault case out of the chain of command. Advocates of the measure say it would help victims to come forward with their assaults because of a widespread fear of retaliation.
Rep. Tammy Duckworth (D-WI) and Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA) re-submitted a motion on Friday that would allow victims to chose whether the Office of Chief Prosecutor decides to go to trial or whether the commander should proceed with the case. "We should not tolerate even a single instance of sexual assault injustice, let alone a growing caseload," Speier said in a statement. "Congress has a responsibility to address this epidemic. The Congresswoman and I, along with our supporters, will continue to fight this battle on behalf of the well-being of our victims, and the brave men and women serving our country." The measure was struck down by a vote of 225-194.
By the Pentagon's own estimation, roughly 26,000 incidents of sexual assault or abuse occurred in 2012, but just over 3,000 have been reported.
Watch the video report, broadcast by NBC News on June 14.