To start the New Year with a bang, commanders at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs on 5 January 2012 charged three Air Force Academy cadets with sexual assault in cases that occurred over the past 15 months.
The cases involve acts allegedly committed at the Academy, and involve civilian women as well as female cadets.
In November 2011, Cadet Stephan H. Claxton is alleged to have unzipped the fly of a female cadet while she was “substantially incapacitated” — a phrase the military has used in the past to describe intoxication.
Cadet Claxton faces assault and attempted rape charges, including an allegation that he forcibly kissed one cadet and assaulted another. He is also charged concerning an incident in March 2011, where he is accused of forcing a fellow cadet to touch his genitals and indulge in underage drinking.
Cadet Kyle A. Cressy, a graduating senior and a member of the soccer team, is charged having sex with a woman at the academy who was “substantially incapacitated.” It’s unclear from the charge sheet whether the alleged victim was a civilian or a female cadet.
Cadet Robert M. Evenson Jr. is alleged to have forcibly raped a female cadet in the spring of 2010. He’s also charged with breaking cadet regulations by having an ongoing relationship with a female freshman. He also is suspected of abusing his power position as a “cadet non-commissioned officer for honor cases” to extract sexual favors from a female fellow cadet. This is serious. He was charged with enforcing the Honor Code. he may have used it to supply gris for his mill. As one of the cadets entrusted with enforcing the Academy’s Honor Code, he would have been in a very coveted position. He was expected to punish those who lie, cheat, steal or tolerate others who do. Those who violate the Honor Code face a maximum punishment of expulsion from the Academy. Allegations of corruption in the Honor Code enforcement system will likely send shockwaves through the Cadet Corps and the Academy alumni. The Honor Code is the very touchstone of the Academy’s culture.
These charges come to light a week after the Pentagon reported a spike in the number of sexual assaults at the air Force Academy. There were 33 reported incidents in the 2010-2011 academic year. This is a four-fold increase in a two year span.
There are about 4,000 cadets at the Air Force Academy. A senior academy spokesman said these charges don’t appear to mark a return of the level of incidents of sexual assault of 2003. In 2003 the Academy and the nation were rocked when dozens of female cadets reported incidents of alleged sexual assaults. Many of those cases were mishandled or ignored.
Several senior officers at the Academy were fired in the wake of the 2003 scandal. This resulted in congressional scrutiny to the issue of sexual assaults at all the nation’s military academies. There were courts-martial at the Coast Guard Academy in New London, Connecticut and the Naval Academy at Annapolis, Maryland. Three were major reforms at those institutions.
The Coast Guard Academy court-martial of Cadet Webster Smith marked the first time in history that a cadet at the Coast Guard Academy was given court-martial. Some Coast Guard Academy graduates accused the Coast Guard of racial discrimination because the accused, Cadet Webster Smith, was African American and all of the accusers were white females. One of them was his girl friend who had become pregnant, and had an abortion more than six months before the Coast Guard decided to charge Cadet Smith with rape.
In the meantime it was learned that about 11 other cases of confessed rape had been resolved without resort to a court-martial. All of the other cadets were allowed to resign quietly and slip into darkness. All the other cadets were white. This is part of the reason that there were claims of bias and inappropriate command influence in the prosecution of Webster Smith.
The conviction was appealed all the way to the United States Supreme Court. It is interesting to note that there were several ‘Friend of the Court‘ or ‘amicus briefs’ filed with the Supreme Court by senior military lawyers from other branches of the armed forces in favor of the reversal of the Webster Smith conviction. It set a very bad precedent and there were irregularities in the prosecution and the appellate review of the conviction. The case was thoroughly critiqued in a book available on Amazon.com. (See http://www.amazon.com/CONDUCT-UNBECOMING-Officer-Lady-ebook/dp/B006VPAADK/ref=pd_rhf_se_p_t_2)
The Pentagon in a December 2011 report to Congress praised the Air Force Academy’s efforts to curb sexual assault in the ranks and gave the school high marks for its programs to encourage sexual assault reporting.
“[The academy] demonstrated commendable practices that should be considered for replication by other military service academies,” the Defense Department wrote in the report. The Coast Guard Academy had already implemented a new procedure for reporting and investigating sexual assaults in the wake of the Webster Smith case.
If any of these cadets get convicted, it would mark a reversal of fortunes for air Force prosecutors. Since the 2003 scandal, the academy has prosecuted a string of rape cases against cadets. But none of those cases has resulted in a conviction. Unlike the Coast Guard Academy, where one prosecution in 2006 resulted in one conviction and six months in jail for a graduating senior. (<a href=”http://www.amazon.com/CONDUCT-UNBECOMING-Officer-Lady-ebook/dp/B006VPAADK/ref=pd_rhf_se_p_t_2″>http://www.amazon.com/CONDUCT-UNBECOMING-Officer-Lady-ebook/dp/B006VPAADK/ref=pd_rhf_se_p_t_2</a>)
Recent rape trials at the Air Force Academy have almost always centered on the issue of ‘consent’. The defendant always used as a defense that the alleged victim gave her consent. He said she asked for sex. The cases were also marked by a lack of forensic evidence that could help sort out the conflicting claims. One can never be sure what a jury will decide in a case of ‘he-said, she-said’.