Protect Our Defenders News Blog


PRESS RELEASE: Shocking Treatment of Victim in Naval Academy Sexual Assault Case Shows Urgent Need for Military Justice Reform

September 5, 2013
Contact: Brian Purchia,



Federal lawsuit filed today in Maryland on behalf of the victim

WASHINGTON, DC – The treatment that the victim has received in the ongoing U.S. Naval Academy sexual abuse scandal has shocked Americans and shows yet again the urgent need for fundamental reforms to the military justice system. The events of this case highlight why more victims do not come forward. During the Article 32 hearing the victim has been put through more than thirty hours of cross examination by 12 defense attorneys and subjected to degrading questions about her sexual history, while her attorney has been prevented from participating to protect her rights.

Today, the victim’s civilian attorney Susan Burke filed a federal lawsuit asking the court to direct the school’s superintendent, VADM. Michael Miller to recuse himself from the proceedings, alleging he has acted with bias against the victim.

You can read the entire lawsuit here (PDF)

“The actions and comments of this Superintendent and his subordinates, as alleged in the lawsuit filed today, exemplify the biased and dysfunctional approach of our military leaders in dealing with sexual assault within its ranks. They are reluctant to acknowledge the problem, attempt to shut down investigations and prevent them from going to trial. They are too often biased in favor of the perpetrator and hostile towards victims for ‘rocking the boat.’ As long as these attitudes exist and commanders are given power over disposition of these cases, victims will not see justice,” said Nancy Parrish, President of Protect Our Defenders. “The victim in the U.S. Naval Academy case has faced an unconscionable attack on her character and her dignity. She has been re-victimized through obvious attempts to intimidate and silence her. She has again been victimized by a judicial system that, at its core, is fundamentally broken. Anyone observing this case would have to wonder, who is really on trial here?”

A brutal system that allows this sort of abuse and mistreatment is not designed to protect victims or achieve justice—just the opposite: it has become another means of intimidating the victim or at a minimum lessening the likelihood that justice will prevail in these cases. It is not surprising that, according to USAF Lt General Richard Harding, of the few victims who dare to report, approximately 30 percent “walk away and refuse to cooperate before they got to the courthouse door some refusing to go forward with a court-martial after suffering the abuse they endure during the Article 32 hearings.

Furthermore, the astonishing incompetence of the Naval investigators in this case highlight another roadblock that victims often face – the lack of care for victims’ allegations and negligent handling of evidence decreases the already elusive odds that a case will be successfully prosecuted.

“The fact that it required a pro bono civilian attorney to instigate any real action by the academy is indicative of the utter failure of the military justice system. If not for the swift actions of attorney, Susan Burke, one of the alleged perpetrators would have been allowed to graduate and be inducted into the Officer Corps, instead of facing possible court-martial. This is unacceptable,” said Parrish. “It is astounding that our military leaders and lawmakers have allowed the current system to continue unchecked for so long. The persistent lack of regard for victims and absence of any genuine effort to protect them is reprehensible. While our military leaders testify that they are finally getting serious about ‘zero tolerance,’ their actions and mistreatment of victims belie that sincerity. Why haven’t military leaders, the President, or members of Congress fixed this travesty of justice? The Article 32 process must be reformed to more closely mirror the Federal civilian grand jury system. Instead of one hearing officer, appointed by the commander, there should be a panel whose sole job is to determine if probable cause exists to send the case to trial. The defense should be excluded from the hearing, as they are in the Federal system. This would prevent further trauma to the victim, expedite the process, and allow an impartial panel to determine whether a case should proceed to trial.”

Midshipman Jane Doe vs. Midshipman Michael H. Miller Lawsuit

Lawsuit: Naval Academy head should excuse self from court-martial decision in sex assault case

MSNBC: Naval Academy sexual assault hearing underscores flaws in system

Washington Post: Accuser in Naval Academy rape case granted a day off from testifying

MSNBC: Naval Academy sex-assault accuser seeks break in testimony, citing exhaustion

San Antonio Express-News: Hagel misses important opportunity

Legislation supported to pull sex-assault cases from chain of command 

About Protect Our Defenders: Protect Our Defenders is a human rights organization.  We seek to honor, support and give voice to the brave women and men in uniform who have been sexually assaulted while serving their country, and re-victimized by the military adjudication system – a system that often blames the victim and fails to prosecute the perpetrator. Learn more about Protect Our Defenders at or on Facebook at or follow us on Twitter at