US Naval Academy football players investigated for sexual assault

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Three members of the United States (US) Naval Academy football team are being investigated for the alleged sexual assault of a female student, the Pentagon said on Friday, the latest in a string of scandals that have thrown a spotlight on sex crimes in the military.

The alleged incident took place in April 2012, when the student attended a party at the off-campus "football house" in Annapolis, Maryland and became intoxicated, her attorney, Ms Susan Burke, said in a statement.

"She 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," Ms Burke said, without identifying her client by name.

No charges have yet be brought against the accused men, sources familiar with the matter said.

The disclosure of the alleged incident comes just a week after President Barack Obama, in a speech at the same academy on May 24, urged graduates to stamp out sexual assault from their ranks. Mr Obama said sexual assault was a crime that threatened to erode trust and discipline within the military.

The Naval Academy, which is located in Annapolis, declined to offer any details, beyond saying that the academy leadership was monitoring progress of the investigation and would "evaluate the appropriate options for adjudication".

"It is completely inappropriate to make any other public comment on this investigation or any ongoing investigation as we risk compromising the military justice process," said Commander John Schofield, a spokesman for the academy.

The Pentagon said only that the accused aggressors belonged to the football team and that the victim was a female student.

"There is absolutely no place for this in the US military," said Colonel Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, commenting broadly on the issue of sexual assault.


Ms Burke said that one of the football players pressured the woman not to cooperate with an initial investigation into the case.

She initially followed that advice, but was still"ostracized and retaliated against by the football players and the Naval Academy community". She was also disciplined for drinking, Ms Burke said in a statement.

In early 2013, the female student decided to seek legal help and the Navy re-opened the investigation, Ms Burke said.

"Over time, the midshipman began to recover from the trauma, and became angered at the lack of justice and retaliation in her case," she said.

Reuters was unable to identify the men accused in the case or find their attorneys. Students at the Naval Academy are known as "midshipmen".

The case is the latest in a series of sex-related scandals in the US military that have come to light in recent weeks, including cases in which military advocates for victims of sexual assault were themselves accused of sex crimes.

A study released in May by the Defense Department estimated that reports of unwanted sexual contact in the military, from groping to rape, rose 37 per cent in 2012, to about 26,000 cases from 19,000 the previous year.

Next week, the top uniformed officers of all the branches of the US military will appear before Congress to testify about sexual assault as lawmakers weigh legislation to address the issue.

One proposal would take responsibility for prosecuting sex crimes out of the victim's chain of command and put it in the hands of specialized prosecutors.

Burke criticised the Naval Academy's handling of the case, saying it was inappropriate that the players were able to keep playing with "no adverse consequences". The Naval Academy is not the only elite US military institution stained by recent allegations of sexual assault.

A sergeant at the US Military Academy at West Point stands accused of videotaping female cadets in the showers. He has been charged with indecent acts, dereliction of duty and cruelty, the Army said.

USDefense Secretary Chuck Hagel spoke with graduates at West Point on Saturday, calling sexual assault a "scourge" on the military.

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