The words “Do you want to f--k?” were ringing in her ears as she raced to her bedroom and chambered her pistol. She set the weapon down on the nightstand at the ready. It was almost midnight and the woman, whom we’ll call Amy, knew her 2-year-old daughter was sound asleep down the hall, but her Army sergeant husband was passed out after nearly choking on his own vomit. Essentially, Amy was alone with a stranger, a tipsy soldier who was relentlessly coming on to her. And even with the loaded gun, she went to sleep unsure if she and her family would wake up unscathed.
Amy wasn’t alone. She was only the first alleged victim. Yet her alleged attacker, once confronted, denied everything. Her husband’s immediate superiors, among them a friend who was appointed to the platoon to prevent sexual assaults, failed to report formally up the chain of command.
Then, two months later, another young woman said she was “vigorously groped” by the same alleged attacker at a party near Fort Campbell in Oak Grove, Kentucky. The woman, also a civilian, retreated to a neighbor’s house and the soldier allegedly gave chase while wielding a garden tool. Unable to enter the home, the soldier, witnesses say, attempted to kick down the door before others stepped in and calmed him down.
In both scenarios the Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program, which aims to prevent and intervene in these kinds of incidents, may have failed both victims and whistleblowers. And while each could be distilled down to isolated incidents, the emotional toll and hurt that one soldier allegedly caused, coupled with the fact that he’ll likely exit the Army with an honorable discharge, has fellow soldiers, sexual abuse experts, and one of the alleged victims up in arms.
While The Daily Beast investigated and discovered two incidents involving the soldier in question, the Army identified only one sexual abuse allegation, saying in a statement that it is “not aware of other allegations.”
Last April a Fort Campbell-based anti-armor platoon nicknamed “Filthy Few” (later changed to the “Headhunters”) welcomed a new rifleman from upstate New York, Specialist Herbert Marolf.
Marolf’s squad leader was a 25-year-old sergeant from South Carolina. We’ll call him John. He’d been based at Fort Campbell since coming home in 2012 after two tours in Afghanistan. In one of them John was a squad leader of a key intelligence support team stationed along a Haqqani hotbed near the Pakistani border.
But once home, John had to deal with a conflict that he wasn’t trained for.
The first alleged sexual assault took place at John and Amy’s three-bedroom home in Clarksville, Tennessee, a half-hour from Fort Campbell. It was a late summer weekend, and the two soldiers started off with Coronas, then graduated to gin and tonics and Specialist Marolf’s own bottle of Sailor Jerry Spiced Rum. Amy served them dinner and left to go grocery shopping.
When she returned, John was liquored up. She put him to bed and noticed that Marolf “was walking completely fine and wasn’t slurring his speech,” she told The Daily Beast.
Marolf began confiding to Amy, she said, about how much he missed his girlfriend and how “sexually frustrated” he was.
Then, as they were talking, Amy heard John “gasping for air,” she said.
She and Marolf discovered that John had thrown up all over himself. “[Marolf] came in and he was helping him and took off my husband’s shirt, and he was rubbing his back and getting the puke off his face,” she said.
Her husband cleaned up, Amy gathered the soiled bedspread and clothes and headed to the laundry room. Marolf followed, carrying a pillowcase.
Amy stashed the dirty laundry in the washing machine. But Marolf was still there, she said, holding the pillowcase. “I was on my tippy-toes to make sure the soap got on the bottom and covered it, and then he brushed up against me so like his penis was on my butt,” she said.
She gave Marolf a pass. “Maybe he was too close but didn’t realize it,” she said.
After all, the room was dark, and maybe Marolf stumbled. And it was only for a second or two.
He was still holding the pillowcase. Amy tried again to put the rest of the wash in the machine, but there was Marolf, she said, gyrating against her from behind. “He just stood there up against me, waving his hips left to right,” she said.
“Can you back up?” she shouted. “You are way too close to me!”
Upstairs, Marolf played off the awkwardness by continuing to talk about his girlfriend. That was when, Amy said, “the conversation went weird.”
He asked, “‘Do you want to f--k?’” she told The Daily Beast.
“I asked him, ‘What do you mean by this, because I hope it’s not what it sounds like,’” she said.
It was exactly what it sounded like, she said. “He says to me, ‘Do you want me to stick my dick in your vagina?’”
“Of course not!” she replied, and rushed to her bedroom, she said. She got the pistol locked and loaded.
But when she tried to lie on the bed with John, the stench of vomit was “unbearable,” she said. She also wanted to keep an eye on the soldier and her daughter. Amy returned to the living room, where Marolf was awake, watching TV.
Marolf agreed to sleep on the floor, and Amy took the couch. Not long after, she said, he allegedly made another move. “I feel him tugging on my blanket,” she said, and 10 minutes later, “I feel a hand touch me, and then he lays on top of me.”
Helpless and on her stomach, Amy pleaded: “Please get off of me. I’m going to get my husband,” she told The Daily Beast. Marolf relented and went back to his spot on the floor, she said.
The next morning, Amy told her husband everything. “The next day I was fuming,” John told The Daily Beast. “I didn’t know how to handle it. I can’t kill this guy in my house, goddammit.”
And his wife was scared. “I completely avoided him,” she said. “I didn’t go into that room until he was gone.”
John immediately sought out the platoon’s SHARP representative, who happened to be a confidant. “I knew him for five years,” John said. “This was a deeply personal thing.”
But when he confided in his friend, John was told to stand down, he said. “I was higher ranked, and I would get in trouble with hanging with a lower enlisted soldier,” John said. (Since 1999, the Army has had a rule in place preventing higher-ranked soldiers from consorting socially with lower-ranked soldiers.)
John said his SHARP rep “insisted we handle it at our level in order to keep everyone out of trouble.”
Eventually, the SHARP rep let Marolf explain his side of the story before John in a face-to-face meeting. According to John and another soldier in the platoon, Marolf denied everything. “He said, ‘I drank too much and don’t remember a thing. I don’t remember doing anything like that,’” the other soldier confirmed. Marolf’s story “seemed sketchy,” the soldier added.
And so the SHARP investigation of Marolf came to a halt.
John and Amy were crushed. But what they didn’t realize at the time was that they had other options. They could have filed what is called a “restricted report,” which would have preserved Amy’s anonymity when filing the claim and allowed her to get help. The only other alternative for members of service is an “unrestricted report,” the filing of which forfeits the alleged victim’s anonymity and ends up “triggering an investigation.”
Anne Munch, a former prosecutor and president of Anne Munch Consulting Inc., who prosecuted many sexual assault cases and now lends her expertise to multiple branches of the armed forces, said the conduct Amy described is a jailable offense.
“Forcing yourself on to someone and touching their intimate parts without their consent is a sex crime,” she said.
Munch added that one of the biggest walls John and Amy face is the reluctance of any community, including the military community, to understand the seriousness of “touching” offenses.
“Denial and minimization can be big factors in how people evaluate sexual assault,” Munch said. “A lot of times people want to give the benefit of the doubt to the alleged offender and not ‘ruin someone’s career’ over something they may not perceive as that serious. We fail to appreciate the impact that sex crimes, including ‘touching’ crimes, have on the victims.”
Months later, on November 8, 2014, Marolf attended a bonfire party at the house of another soldier in the “Headhunters” platoon. According to a statement about the incident written and submitted by John to Army investigators and acquired by The Daily Beast, Marolf allegedly attempted to chat up a woman at the party. “After being rejected by her, Spc. Marolf then reached down and vigorously groped her vagina through her pants,” the statement said.
The woman and a friend managed to get away, according to the statement, and headed to a neighboring house. Marolf followed them, “holding an improvised weapon in his hand (a garden tool),” the statement said. After allegedly bashing the door in, Marolf tried to feign innocence. A taxi was called to spirit him away, according to the statement.
The second incident gave John and Amy a second wind. “The SHARP rep was at first like, ‘Now we’re going to fry him,’” John told The Daily Beast, referring to the possibility of Marolf facing charges. “We were like, ‘Cool, we can finally get this guy.’”
A meeting was scheduled for the SHARP rep, Marolf, and the platoon leaders. John and another sergeant were supposed to attend the meeting, as well. Instead, the meeting took place without John or the other soldier. “I confront [the sergeant]: ‘What the f--k? I thought we were going to be part of this,’” John told The Daily Beast. The SHARP rep, John said in the statement he submitted to the Army, made an “offhand remark that the victim was apparently a slut and was into this kind of thing.”
And John was told point-blank, he told The Daily Beast, that there was concern about how many of the soldiers at the bonfire party were not of legal drinking age. The sergeant, John said, “was worried about underage drinking at the party.”
As a result, John said, the SHARP rep and the platoon leaders moved to withhold the incident from the chain of command and “decide upon a course of action” that included having Marolf paint over the door he allegedly tried to kick down and write a five-page letter to the woman.
In an interview with The Daily Beast, an expert who helps the Army deal with sex assault victim trauma called the platoon SHARP rep’s handling of the incident “outrageous.” “If he fondled her vagina, then that’s clearly a sexual assault,” said the expert, who requested anonymity. “Having him write an apology letter is what they make kids who get in trouble in elementary school do, not how you deal with sexual assault, let alone someone you already know has at least two victims.”
John said he was aggravated at how the incident was handled. “They were trying not to bring heat on themselves,” he said. “This became a speed bump for their careers.”
He called the local police department, and when he was trying to relay the second incident anonymously, he inadvertently broke the chain of command by informing members at the brigade level. “I called and by accident it turned out to be the division [coordinator],” he said.
Army Criminal Investigation Division investigators then conducted a formal investigation, and John said he convinced the alleged victim to submit a statement saying Marolf had groped her. The SHARP rep and platoon leaders were temporarily replaced.
But the Army ultimately decided to avoid a court martial and instead dealt with the matter administratively. Specialist Marolf, who was demoted to private, stands to leave the Army with an honorable discharge, Fort Campbell officials and fellow soldiers confirm.
“The soldier’s chain of command took appropriate disciplinary action, and the soldier currently faces additional administrative action from separation from the U.S. Army,” officials from Fort Campbell said.
Attempts to reach Marolf were unsuccessful.
However, his mother, Rebecca Lovenduski, told The Daily Beast the accusations against her son are not to be believed. “He’s not one who touches a female in any way that’s not appropriate,” she said. “Ever since he was younger, if he sees a couple in dispute, he would step in and make sure she wasn’t getting harmed.”
And she said he has always served as “an advocate for women.”
“This is not the behavior from the boy I knew. That’s why this is disturbing me,” she said.
Amy, for her part, said many people she has spoken to have tried to minimize her alleged assault. “I tell somebody my story and they think it’s not serious because I didn’t actually get raped, but I was sexually assaulted,” she said. If Marolf walks away from the Army as a civilian with only a wrist slap, she said, he will surely strike again: “The next step is you’re going to wait for him to rape somebody.”