MILITARY

05.04.12

Former Student Claims U.S. Naval Academy Had ‘Zero Tolerance’ for Rape Victims

A star athlete claims Annapolis failed to help her after she reported her rape.

In 2007 Annie Kendzior received exciting news. As a high-school junior and one of the best soccer players in the country, she had netted an offer of an early appointment to the prestigious U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. Congressman Kenny Marchand, who represents Kendzior’s hometown of Southlake, Texas, said the Naval Academy had asked him to give Kendzior the news a whole year early so that they could ensure she didn’t accept another college offer. It was the only time in Marchand’s eight years of giving out nominations that his office has ever received such a request. The news was a big deal in Southlake—the local paper ran Kendzior’s photograph alongside an article that brimmed with small-town pride. Her father, Russell, an accident-prevention expert and the founder of the National Floor Safety Institute, told the paper that his daughter had received offers from 32 other schools. But Kendzior had chosen the USNA because she wanted the opportunity to serve the nation. “Here is a 17-year-old girl wanting to go off and serve her country,” he said. “And we are at war.”

Annie Kendzior
Annie Kendzior said she was raped while attending the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis. (Courtesy of the Kendzior Family)

Four years later, Kendzior was receiving a very different kind of news from the Naval Academy. In July 2011, she was brought before an academic committee, where she heard testimony that military medical staff had diagnosed her with a “long-standing disorder of character and behavior” and that she had been deemed “unsuitable for continued military service.” The committee unanimously agreed that Kendzior possessed “insufficient aptitude to become a commissioned officer” and recommended her for “disenrollment.” She was honorably discharged.

How, in that short span of time, had Annie Kendzior gone from star athlete and honor student to expulsion? According to the Naval Academy, she had a “borderline personality disorder” and thereby not only unfit for service, but also in need of long-term treatment the military couldn’t provide. According to Kendzior and her father, it’s because she reported her rape.

Kendzior’s trajectory is partially outlined in an academy document titled the “Aptitude Chronology,” which the Kendzior family provided to The Daily Beast. In high school, Kendzior says, she was a member of the National Honor Society and a star of her soccer team. She had also struggled with bouts of depression. Nonetheless, the Naval Academy still desperately wanted her—and so, according to the Aptitude Chronology, in December 2007, Kendzior was given a superintendent’s medical waiver for admission to the school. The waiver noted “a history of depression and longstanding history of passive suicidal thoughts.”

In the summer of 2008, Kendzior arrived in Annapolis to begin what’s called “Plebe Summer.” That August, the Aptitude Chronology report indicates that she was “noted as a very good performer with unmatched sense of urgency.” The following month, Kendzior says, she was invited to a party thrown by the school’s lacrosse team. That night, she says, she had too much to drink, so she wandered into one of the back bedrooms and fell asleep on an air mattress. Several hours later, according to Kendzior, she woke up to find a fellow student on top of her, raping her. She says she told her roommate about the incident, but no one else.

Several months later, Kendzior says she left campus for the evening on “liberty” with two male students whom she considered friends. According to Kendzior, they had one drink together, then she grew groggy and soon passed out. Again, she says, she awoke to find herself being raped by one of the men.

After the second assault, Kendzior says she sought counseling from the health services at the academy. She says that she was put on antidepressants, and though she told her counselor about the rapes, says she was not encouraged to report them. (A USNA spokesman says that “the culture here encourages reporting issues at all times. It is made very clear that reporting sexual harassment or assault is always the right thing to do and never discouraged.”)

In December 2008, at the end of her first semester, the Aptitude Chronology report noted that Kendzior was “quiet but confident and tenacious.” The next entry on the report, from January-March 2009, reported that Kendzior had spent six sessions with a counselor and that she was on medication. Kendzior says that the antidepressant she was prescribed, Lexapro, caused her to have suicidal thoughts, a side effect that is list first among the drug’s FDA warnings. In November 2009, Kendzior went off the drug. Her depression apparently continued, however, and she says it was made worse by the fact that one of her alleged rapists was in her same company, meaning she reportedly had to see him every day.

In March 2010, Kendzior says, her depression and thoughts of suicide became so severe that she was admitted to the emergency room. She was put back on Lexapro and, she says, her dose was increased from “the lowest dose possible to the highest dose possible in the span of maybe six months.” According to the Aptitude Chronology report, she was also diagnosed with borderline personality disorder.

Kendzior and another young woman have filed a lawsuit against the secretary of defense and four other high-ranking military officials, claiming that the military academies have “zero tolerance” for those who report rape.

In the second semester of Kendzior’s junior year, things apparently began to spiral completely out of control. “That’s when I just lost hope,” she says. She asked for a different medication, she says, claiming the Lexapro made her suicidal. But she says she was told that the only alternative was lithium, which can have severe side effects. According to the Aptitude Chronology report, Kendzior began to accrue demerits for various rule violations, such as leaving campus without permission and missing classes. In March, the report indicates that she spent a week in the mental-health wing at the National Military Medical Center (the hospital now known as Walter Reed), that she “appeared to be in a negative spiral,” and that a recommendation for “administrative separation” (discharge) was being initiated.

On March 29, 2011, according to the report, she reported one rape to a "Sexual Assault Response Coordinator." On April 1, she reported the second. That day, the report indicates, her recommendation for separation would be “forthcoming.”

The USNA spokesperson told The Daily Beast that “Every reported case of sexual assault is reviewed by senior officials at the Naval Academy … [and] in all cases, the victim is offered immediate medical care and counseling. It is also very clear that there shall be no retaliation for reporting sexual harassment or assault. No midshipman will ever be disenrolled for reporting an incident of sexual harassment or assault against them. I can confidently say that every midshipman here has at least five different avenues to get help or counseling if they desire.”

“Once reported, we follow through from beginning to end until the matter is resolved.”

On July 20, Kendzior appeared before an academic committee to plead her case. “Like many people who came to the naval academy, I entered gate one with big goals and expectations,” her statement read. “I would never have guessed that the place I loved would soon become a place of fear and disappointment.”

“I admit that I am a wounded sailor and ask that I not be left behind as a causality,” her statement continued, asking, ultimately, that the academy allow her to finish her last year of school and graduate. Although her grades had fallen since her first year, when she received As or Bs in every class, she was still far from failing out, according to the transcript she gave The Daily Beast. In the fall semester of her junior year—the one just prior to her meltdown—she had a GPA of 2.47. “I am not asking for your sympathy but just the opportunity to finish what I started.”

According to the Aptitude Chronology report, the committee instead unanimously ruled that Kendzior “possesses insufficient aptitude to become a commissioned officer” and recommended her for disenrollment.

Two weeks ago, Kendzior, along with another young woman named Karley Leah Marquet—who alleges she went through a similar experience as a young West Point cadet—filed a lawsuit against former secretary of defense Robert M. Gates, and four other high-ranking military officials, claiming that while West Point and the Naval Academy both “claim to be teaching young men and women to hold themselves to the highest standards of ethical conduct … the evidence shows otherwise: they have a high tolerance for sexual predators in their ranks, and ‘zero tolerance’ for those who report rape, sexual assault and harassment.” (The U.S. Department of Justice says that “the United States would have no comment as this is an ongoing matter.”)

Just after the suit was filed, Kendzior and Marquet appeared in a lengthy CNN segment that detailed their experiences at the academies. Since then, Kendzior says, 90 percent of her friends who remain on campus are refusing to talk to her, and those that will have told her that they’d been told by the academy not to discuss what happened. (The USNA spokesman denied this allegation, saying that, “Midshipmen are not at all restricted from speaking about their experiences or opinions in general.”) The harshest response, Kendzior says, has been from her female classmates, who represent around 20 percent of students. “I don’t think they’re ever going to really want to come out and talk about this stuff,” she says. “It took me three years ... and look at what happened to me, my career got pretty much destroyed.”

Some of her male friends from the academy, meanwhile, have reached out to her, and contacted The Daily Beast to speak about the school’s environment. Women there, they and Kendzior said, are allegedly called D.U.B.s, which stands for “Dumb Ugly Bitch.” “It’s brutal towards women,” one young male former midshipmen said. “It’s a really hostile environment.” Another young man, who also requested anonymity, concurred: “It’s definitely a man’s world.”

Unfortunately, according to a recent report produced by the Pentagon itself, Kendzior’s alleged ordeal is hardly out of the ordinary. Published in late December of last year, the report found that incidents of reported sexual assaults at military academies were up 58 percent from the year prior—and an earlier report indicated that less than ten percent of the actual assaults at academies were even reported in the first place. Of the 65 reported assaults last year, in only one case was the accused assailant subjected to a court-martial.

Similar figures apply to the military as a whole, according to Pentagon reports. Out of an estimated 19,000 sexual assaults in 2011, only some 3,000 were reported to military authorities—and of these, only a tiny fraction were actually brought to prosecution. According to military records obtained by the Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic, personality disorder diagnoses are used disproportionately against women: while only 17 percent of Navy personnel are female, women represent 26 percent of sailors discharged under that diagnosis. The military has thus far refused requests to release information on how many of these women had also filed sexual-assault charges.

Kendzior’s suit is the third of its kind to be filed by D.C. attorney Susan Burke, and it comes at a time when the issue of military rape is finally getting more attention than it’s received in the twenty-some years since the notorious Tailhook scandal, where 83 female and seven male sailors were sexually assaulted by fellow Navy personnel at a convention. Just days before Burke filed the case, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta had made an unprecedented visit to Capitol Hill, where he met with a group of legislators who have been working to reform the military’s procedure for handling sexual assaults. Announcing a host of new policies—including the creation of Special Victims Units—Panetta, standing with the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Martin Dempsey, was unequivocal about his commitment to the issue. “There is no silver bullet,” he told reporters. “But what is required is that everyone, from the secretary to the chair of the Joint Chiefs, all the way down at every command level, be sensitive to this issue, and be aware that they bear the responsibility to take action on these cases.”

“The most important thing we can do is prosecute the offenders,” Panetta added.

The issue has also been thrust into the spotlight by a new documentary, The Invisible War, which won this year’s audience award at Sundance and was recently screened on Capitol Hill. Director Kirby Dick says that the film—which will premiere in June—has also been circulating within the Department of Defense. Dick told The Daily Beast that Kendzior’s story is similar to many that he heard during the years he spent researching and making the film. “An incredibly high number of women who were assaulted ended up leaving the academies, which is really incredibly unfortunate because you lose these women that would have gone on to be officers with incredible potential,” he said.

“You can imagine proud parents sending their daughter off to the academy—thinking it’s the safest place for them to be—and then learning that these kinds of assaults are happening there. It’s just imperative that the military do everything it can to solve this.”

It’s a solution, some advocates say, which must start at the level of the academies, those crucibles of the country’s future military leaders. But the academies also present one of the greatest challenges. “The dynamics at the academies are arguably more sinister” than in the military as a whole, says Anu bhagwati, a former Marine captain and the current executive director of the advocacy group Service Women’s Action Network. “There’s an institutionalized misogyny there … It’s like Hogwarts meets Skull and Bones. It’s very bizarre.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, the harshest criticism of the USNA came from Kendzior’s father, Russell. “We got sold a bill of goods like you wouldn’t believe,” he told The Daily Beast. “An institution we held in such high regard is nothing they claim to be … It’s like Penn State. They round the wagons around the institution, and isolate the victim.”

“We’re not just fighting for Annie, but for all the other Annies.”

Annie, for her part, is now enrolled at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas. In her first semester there, she led the women’s soccer team to a pair of victories, and was named Offensive Player of the Week by the Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference. Although she says she was told that she would have access to health coverage following her discharge, the Department of Veterans Affairs has yet to approve her application. Her alleged assailants, according to the suit, have both graduated and became officers in the Navy.