The American public consistently ranks the military as the most trusted institution in the country. It follows that the military officers in charge should be considered trustworthy. To that end, officer candidates recruited by the nation's military academies—known as cadets and midshipmen--are expected to be of the highest moral character. Thus, each new report of sexual misconduct at a military college is a headline scandal, as in a recent University World News article that focuses mostly on Canada's military academies, but also examines trends in American and other countries' military colleges.
Of course, the numbers are not so surprising, as the report's author notes that one “study establishes a baseline that shows the incidence of unwanted sexual behaviour is the same as in Canada’s civilian colleges and universities.” However, US Air Force Colonel (Retired) Don Christensen, now President of Protect our Defenders, observes that in the US military, “Very few of the [sexual assault and harrassment] cases are prosecuted, [and] virtually none end up in conviction.” While this may be true, authorities have other ways to handle proven sex offenses in military universities--administrative punishment and involuntary separation.
In addition to the crimes of sexual assault and harrassment, military college regulations can make any sexual activity punishable. The United States Military Academy at West Point prohibits all sexual activity, even consensual, off-campus behavior. When the chain of command knows they can't meet the high standard of proof necessary in a criminal court, proof beyond a reasonable doubt, they can rely on the much easier standard of preponderance of the evidence to punish the accused. This means the accuser just has to be the tiniest bit more believable than the accused. A military school can then impose punishments ranging from marching “tours” back and forth on campus, to hours of confinement in a barracks room, to on-campus restriction, conduct probation, and all the way up to expulsion.
But in the case of third- and fourth-year cadets in both the federal service academies and in the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at civilian colleges, it doesn't necessarily end there. In these cases, a finding of misconduct is considered a breach of the contract cadets sign when joining the military. Thus, they must pay the United States government back with years of service as an enlisted member. If it is not in the interest of the military for the accused to serve on active duty--as is likely in the case of alleged serious sexual misconduct--the accused must repay the government for the portion of their education they received. With a West Point education valued at a total of $225,000, this could be a steep bill. Additionally, not even bankruptcy can relieve the debt. Worse, the accused can be saddled with an “under other than honorable conditions” discharge from the military, which will have to be reported to prospective employers forever.
A Good Offense
When accused of sexual misconduct, cadets and midshipmen need an active and robust defense from the beginning. Once the process begins, it is harder to claw back what's been lost than to start with a strong, experienced advocate like Attorney Joseph D. Lento. Misconduct punishment and administrative separation processes vary widely between military colleges and are fraught with pitfalls in every case--our dedicated team at the Lento Law Firm can ensure your rights are protected every step of the way. Call 888-535-3686 to discuss your case today.