Last Friday, Karley Marquet and Anne Kendzior filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming that the US Military Academy in West Point, New York, and the US Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, ignored rampant sexual harassment and rapes at the academies. Named as defendants are former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former superintendents of the two academies, and the current Secretaries of the Army and Navy. The lawsuit states:
Although Defendants and other military leadership repeatedly claim they have “zero tolerance” for such misconduct, the evidence shows otherwise: they have a high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks, and “zero tolerance” for those who report rape, sexual assault and harassment.
There are three rapes discussed in the lawsuit; one of the women was raped twice. Karley Marquet is 20. She began attending West Point boot camp in June of 2010. Before describing the events in question, she says that she was taught to follow all directions given by upperclassmen – shining shoes, making beds, emptying trash, and otherwise doing whatever they told her to do. During the second semester of her freshman year, she stayed on campus over the Martin Luther King holiday weekend; her roommate didn’t. A female friend visited her on the evening in question but left by curfew. Shortly after, her roommate’s boyfriend, an upperclassman, stopped by to visit. According to the lawsuit:
The male upperclassman stayed for quite some time, and then gave Ms. Marquet a sports drink that had alcohol in it. Peer pressure by upperclassmen to consume alcohol is pervasive at West Point. Ms. Marquet drank about one-fourth of the liquid in the bottle, and soon became intoxicated. Disoriented, Ms. Marquet was convinced by the upperclassman to go to his room, where he raped her.
So you have peer pressure, alcohol, and a disoriented freshman. It all sounds familiar. Ms. Marquet told her sister and a friend what happened. They told her to go to the Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (“SARC”). But she was hesitant. The perpetrator stopped by her room several times, she says, pressuring her not to report the rape. In addition, she was well aware that women who did report rapes were called “sluts” and were accused of having “asked for it.” But she decided to report it, not that it did her any good. West Point didn’t provide her with what she calls adequate assistance. She was forced to remain in contact with the guy, and West Point didn’t alter her duties, which meant she had to empty his trash every day. As a result of the rape and the hostile environment, she became depressed and suicidal. The final straw was being forced to do “walking hours” with this guy as punishment for a minor infraction. She resigned from West Point. The guy still hasn’t been brought to justice. In the case of Anne Kendzior, both perpetrators went on to graduate and become Naval officers. Ms. Kendzior is 22, and joined the Naval Academy in the summer of 2008. She, too, was taught to follow all directions given by upperclassmen. That fall she went to a party given at “Lacrosse House,” attended mainly by Naval Academy students. There was a lot of alcohol. They played some drinking games and had lots of fun getting drunk. Ms. Kendzior went to one of the back bedrooms to sleep it off. Everybody can guess what happened next: she woke up to find a male student on top of her doing the deed. She says he then rolled over and went to sleep. She didn’t tell anyone what had happened except her roommate. Nothing was made of the whole incident. A few months went by. Ms. Kendzior and two male students were granted Saturday liberty. They bought some alcohol and went to a hotel room to drink it. She passed out drunk. She woke up to find herself being raped by one of the guys. She told her roommates, but no one else. Eventually – the lawsuit doesn’t specify exactly when – she reported both rapes to her Academy counselor, but the counselor didn’t encourage her to report them to either civilian or military police. She says she spiraled downhill, becoming suicidal. She finally did report the rapes to the Naval Academy. But the lawsuit states:
Although Ms. Kendzior was only one year from completing her degree, the Naval Academy decided that Ms. Kendzior’s mental health issues caused by the rapes precluded her from becoming a commissioned officer. Only the intervention of Ms. Kendzior’s parents and Congressman prevented the Academy from wrongly incarcerating her at a mental health facility.
She was forced to leave the Academy without being permitted to graduate. The lawsuit maintains that Robert Gates and his co-defendants are directly responsible for the atmosphere in the US military and at the academies that allows these assaults and rapes to flourish and go unpunished. You know what I wonder, though? Why didn’t these two fairly intelligent, capable women understand that they were putting themselves at risk of being raped? It’s not okay to rape people. Furthermore, you can’t make anyone rape you. Rapists are responsible for the crimes they commit. But assuming you can take them at their word, why the Hell do so many women walk blindly into these rape scenarios? Nobody has a right to rape you. But you are responsible for your own safety and well-being. Not the Secretary of Defense. Not the head of the military academy. Not your Academy counselor. You are. If you can’t tell when you’re being set up for a possible sexual assault, then maybe there are certain environments you don’t need to be in, period.