WASHINGTON -- Angry attention this early fall has been focused on the heinous rape case in India, when a court sentenced four men in New Delhi to death by hanging for the brutal rape of a young woman student, causing the victim's subsequent death. Both women and men had taken to India's streets in unprecedented protests for months following the attack.
Perhaps it was the particular traits of the rape that awakened the nation, so long somnolent and enabling about crimes against women. Perhaps it was the innocence of the victim, who was studying to be the provider for her family and took a bus with a friend, thinking it was a public bus. Perhaps it was the way those miserable men raped her with an iron pole, destroying her organs.
Or perhaps India is moving ahead of us in America. We have before us a rape case that seems to me to be almost as horrific, although the American case takes different forms. It has, moreover, the additional fact that the three men and the woman involved were all in training to become officers in the American Navy.
And there was one other disturbing trait that seems to be emerging in American rape cases recently: The woman in the Navy case was intoxicated. By her own admission, she had drunk too much alcohol during parties near the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, where all were midshipmen. The next morning she remembered nothing.
The men in the case were questioned in a preliminary hearing this summer at the D.C. Navy Yard here about the April 2012 assault. Tra'ves Bush, Eric Graham and Joshua Tate, all football players, were pictured in the press all upright in their naval uniforms. Who could believe? But their acts that night could be compared to those of vampires, the folkloric beings that suck the blood out of humans and rob bodies from cemeteries. This is a big step downward morally from the rape of a conscious person, who could at least be expected to cry out or fight her -- or his -- attacker.
Apparently, my middle-class/working-class neighborhood on the South Side of Chicago was aberrant. There, if a girl or a boy had too much to drink or was similarly incoherent, our first impulse was to take her home or get her to safety. To us, it was about as low as a man could get to demean her further.
But as low as that is, you haven't heard from the defendants' lawyers yet. These lawyers actually asked the woman involved: How do you perform oral sex? Didn't you "feel like a ho" the next morning? Wasn't it your fault because you were flirting? Didn't you know that "drunk sex is not sexual assault," or that good girls don't get raped? Were you wearing underpants?
It's been a long time since questions like these were allowed to be asked in civilian rape cases. What is the Navy thinking of?
The woman plaintiff in the case did not know she had been assaulted until the next morning when she saw all the crowing comments about her on social media. Ah, how the modern age has freed us!
The naval case does not stand alone. Last March, two Steubenville, Ohio, high school football players were found guilty of sexually assaulting a 16-year-old girl and sentenced to one year in juvenile jail for the juvenile equivalent of "guilty." The girl, too, had been intoxicated and had to piece together her actions from social media.
It will be several weeks before it will be decided whether the naval case will go to a court-martial. Meanwhile, a Pentagon study estimated that "unwanted sexual contact" in the military jumped by 37 percent in 2012 to 26,000 cases!
Ladies and gentlemen of the American citizenry, these are young men and women being trained to represent America abroad at our highest levels. They are receiving our finest education, courtesy of you and me.
Should we now expect that this woman, perhaps a future naval attache at the embassy in Bangkok or Berlin, will get drunk and disgrace her nation? Should we expect that these three men, in 10 years captains of American ships on the high seas, will assault female officers or perhaps seduce the daughter of a prime minister in Moscow or The Hague after an embassy party and then argue that she had been drinking and was "just a ho"?
The military should adopt new rules that are clear and vigorously enforced prescribing conduct, including drinking and sexual contact, among all of its personnel, who include our future leaders.
(Georgie Anne Geyer has been a foreign correspondent and commentator on international affairs for more than 40 years. She can be reached at gigi_geyer(at)juno.com.)