WASHINGTON — — A midshipman who says she was sexually assaulted by three members of the Naval Academy football team is scheduled to testify at a preliminary hearing Wednesday.
The woman has told investigators that she remembers little of the alleged assault last year, which her attorney says occurred after she became intoxicated at an off-campus party in Annapolis.
Vice Adm. Michael Miller, the academy superintendent, has ordered the Article 32 hearing to help him determine whether to send the accused to court-martial.
Midshipmen Tra'ves Bush and Joshua Tate could be charged with aggravated sexual assault. Midshipman Eric Graham could be charged with abusive sexual contact. Each could be charged with making a false official statement.
The hearing comes amid rising concern over sexual assaults within the military. The Pentagon estimates that as many as 26,000 service members were assaulted last year, up from 19,000 the year before. The number of incidents reported rose to 3,374, a 6 percent increase.
President Barack Obama raised the issue during his commencement address at the academy in May, when he said sexual assaults undermine the military's strength.
The hearing in the alleged assault opened Tuesday at the Washington Navy Yard. Cmdr. Robert P. Monahan Jr., the investigating officer, is expected to hear evidence for several days.
An Article 32 hearing is a preliminary proceeding sometimes compared to a civilian grand jury. A military judge will hear testimony from both sides, weigh evidence and produce a report for Miller. Miller could refer the case to court-martial, order administrative sanctions or dismiss the charges.
The accused midshipmen sat quietly in their white uniforms during the brief portions of the hearing that were open to the public. They offered brief answers to procedural questions asked by Monahan.
Each of the three had his own team of military and civilian lawyers. The sides spent much of the first day arguing behind closed doors over the admissibility of evidence. There was no public testimony Tuesday.
Susan Burke, the Baltimore-based attorney for the alleged victim, told The Baltimore Sun that her client was assaulted after she went to a party at an off-campus "football house" in Annapolis in April 2012.
Burke said the woman woke up at the house the next morning with little memory of what had happened. She said the midshipman later learned from friends and social media that three football players were saying that they had had sex with her while she was incapacitated.
The woman reported the incident to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, Burke said, but told investigators she had been intoxicated and could not provide much information.
Burke said her client was disciplined for drinking. She said the football players remained on the team for the 2012 season.
Tate and Graham are enrolled at the academy. Bush has completed his academic requirements but has not been commissioned as an officer pending the outcome of the investigation.
Bush and Tate have played linebacker for the football team. Graham, a cornerback, has not seen any playing time on the varsity. None of the three is listed on the current football roster.
The Pentagon said in January that the number of sexual assaults reported at the Naval Academy had fallen from 22 two years ago to 13 last year.
Officials believe many attacks go unreported, and they conduct surveys of midshipmen to get a clearer picture.
At the Naval Academy, 15.1 percent of women and 2.6 percent of men said they had experienced unwanted sexual contact, both down slightly from a 2010 survey.
In a statement, the academy called sexual assault "an attack on the values we defend and the cohesion our units demand."
Capt. Bill Byrne, the academy's new commandant, said last week that sexual assault prevention will be incorporated into the classroom curriculum beginning this year.
Previous efforts to train midshipmen about the prevention of sexual assault and sexual harassment have come in seminars and activities with their companies — overall, about 30 hours of instruction over four years.
Byrne, whose position is roughly equivalent to that of a dean of students at a civilian college, said the academy wants to start hitting the anti-assault messages from "Day One" when midshipmen arrive in Annapolis.