USN Ends Victim Liability for Minor Misconduct in Sexual Assault Cases

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A US Navy courtroom (USN file image)

Posted on July 3, 2022 at 10:29 p.m. by

The Maritime Executive

The US Navy has implemented a major change in its disciplinary policy to encourage reporting by victims of sexual assault. In some cases, reporting would implicate the victim in their own misconduct – for example, drinking alcohol, breaking curfew or other minor offenses – and the victim is encouraged to remain silent in order to avoid the punishment. The Navy has decided to remove this incentive structure: with immediate effect, Navy personnel will no longer be subject to disciplinary action for minor misconduct associated with sexual assault (collateral misconduct).


“Collateral misconduct by the victim of a sexual assault is one of the most significant barriers to reporting due to the victim’s fear of punishment,” said Andrea Goldstein, Deputy Director, Department of the Navy Strength Resiliency. “We are committed to breaking down barriers to reporting, restoring the trust of victims and improving care for victims.


The conundrum of “collateral misconduct” exists in all industries. A recent case from the US Merchant Fleet provides a clear example: the most shocking incident of sexual assault aboard a ship reported in recent years, the “Midshipman-X” incident, occurred after an officer allegedly urged the victim to drink until he was unconscious. The act of drinking put her in violation of academy rules and Coast Guard licensing policy, but she reported the incident anyway, putting her career at risk by admitting she had been drinking alcohol on board.


Under new Navy rules, this type of minor misconduct will not endanger a sailor or cadet if they unrestrictedly report a sexual assault through the appropriate channels. Commanding Officers will assess whether the misconduct occurred in the context of a sexual assault and review the circumstances. If they determine that the collateral misconduct is minor, the victim will not be sanctioned.


Examples of minor misconduct could include underage drinking at or near the time of the sexual assault; an unprofessional relationship with the accused; or a violation of curfews, prohibited areas, school standards, or fire station policies.


“Removing this barrier empowers victims and survivors – they shouldn’t have to choose to get involved by reporting a crime against them,” Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro said.

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