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Naval academy midshipman alleges bias in sexual assault case

The female midshipman at the center of a case against three former Naval Academy football players has filed a lawsuit asking the Superintendent of the Naval Ac
Naval Academy Sexual Assault
Superintendent of the United States Naval Academy, Vice Admiral Michael H. Miller, poses for photographs after a Navy football game, Dec. 8, 2012. A...

The female midshipman at the center of a case against three former Naval Academy football players has filed a lawsuit asking the Superintendent of the Naval Academy to recuse himself from deciding whether the case goes to court martial, arguing he is too biased to make the decision.

The suit, filed by the 21 year old Naval Academy senior’s lawyer Susan Burke, alleges that Vice Admiral Michael Miller, who has the final authority over whether or not the case against the three accused men goes forward, “engaged in abusive and retaliatory treatment of the Midshipman,” and that Miller is “biased and conflicted because his own personal self-interests in career advance merit and reputation have been harmed” because of the case.

The suit says that in the wake of the alleged assaults, Miller fostered an environment at the school that did not discourage harassment and retaliation against the young woman. It also argues that the long days of questioning “Midshipman Jane Doe” endured during a preliminary hearing last week were procedurally unnecessary and meant to punish Doe for going forward with the case.

During the Article 32 hearing, the woman was required to report to court as early as 7:30 am, and on one day was not released until 9:30 pm. During the course of the defense attorneys’ cross examination, the midshipman was repeatedly asked detailed questions about her sexual history, what she was wearing the night she was assaulted, how many times a day she lies, and other highly personal questions. The officer presiding over the hearing sent the woman home on Saturday in order to allow her to rest, but she was required to appear again on Sunday.

Lieutenant Commander Sarah Flaherty, a Navy Spokeswoman, said that the Navy will work with the Department of Justice on the case but declined to offer further comment due to the pending litigation.

The issue of whether commanders can fairly adjudicate sexual assault cases, and whether concern for their own careers and those of their subordinates overrides concern for victims of sexual violence, has been at the heart of the Congressional debate over how to reform the military's approach to such cases. New York Democrat Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand wants to take cases out of the military chain of command, while Missouri Sen. Claire McCaskill has proposed reforms that would not take that step.

A survey released earlier this year by the Department of Defense found that only a small percentage–3,374 of an estimated 26,000--of survivors of unwanted sexual contact reported the incidents. Of those who did not report assaults, 47% cited fear of reprisal as a reason for staying silent, and of those who went through the process, 62% of them reported suffering some sort of reprisal.