Former female West Point cadet may pursue sexual hostility case: U.S. judge

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 13, 2015 8:01 PM

By Nate Raymond

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A former female cadet at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point who said she had been raped during her time there may pursue a lawsuit alleging officials knowingly permitted rampant sexual hostility toward women, a federal judge ruled on Monday.

U.S. District Judge Alvin Hellerstein in Manhattan significantly narrowed the lawsuit by the woman, who was suing anonymously as "Jane Doe," but said she could pursue an equal protection claim against two former West Point officials.

Hellerstein said that while judges often abstain from intervening in military matters, courts have an obligation to uphold constitutional rights at least until a showing that order and discipline in the military could be compromised.

"The law demanding a woman's entry through the schoolhouse gates must not abandon its protection beyond the gates if a woman's right to equal protection continues to be violated," Hellerstein wrote.

Hellerstein dismissed other claims, including ones against the United States itself. The case can move forward, potentially to a trial in which the woman would seek unspecified damages from the two former West Point officials.

Those defendants are Lieutenant General Franklin Hagenbeck, the West Point, New York-based academy's former superintendent, and Major General William Rapp, a former commandant of cadets who is now commandant of the U.S. Army War College.

James Flynn, a law student with the Yale Law School Veterans Legal Services Clinic, which represents Doe, called the ruling "a big victory for our client."

Representatives for West Point and Manhattan U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara, whose office is handling the government's defense, declined comment.

The lawsuit was filed in 2013, a year that saw several sex-related scandals rock the Pentagon, which has cracked down on military sexual assaults following public outrage.

A survey by the Rand Corp conducted for the U.S. Department of Defense released in December showed a more than 25 percent drop in cases of unwanted sexual contact over the past two years, to 19,000 cases in 2014 compared with 26,000 in 2012.

The lawsuit was brought by a female cadet who resigned in 2010 after, she alleged, a male cadet had forcible, non-consensual sex with her.

The lawsuit alleged that a pervasive culture of sexual violence and gender discrimination at West Point was furthered by Hagenbeck and Rapp and deprived women of the equal opportunity to receive and benefit from an education.

(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Leslie Adler)