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Petty Officers Engage In Group Sex With A Minor — On Camera. Is The Navy’s Response Enough?

Virginia Kruta Associate Editor

The U.S. Navy is kicking out four petty officers who stand accused of sex crimes with a child. The departing sailors, however, will escape the threat of a court-martial.

The charges stem from an incident that took place at Naval Base Kitsap-Bangor on Sept. 19, 2017, and allege that the four sailors engaged in sex acts with a child who was “less than 16 years old but more than 12.” Charge sheets also indicated that they engaged in those acts “with the door open, and with open recording of the group sex using photography and video equipment.”

An investigation was launched pursuant to an anonymous tip, and the four sailors were charged with a number of offenses including child pornography, committing a sex act with a child and allowing a non-family member to stay in a barracks room overnight. It was determined that the four had discussed the group sex around the smoke pit, and had then gone back to the barracks to carry out their plan. There was reportedly no indication that the girl was not a willing participant.

On Dec. 13, after more than a year of investigations and article 32 (procedural) hearings for each defendant, the hearing officer recommended non-judicial punishment (NJP) and the Navy declined to go forward with courts-martial. (RELATED: The DOJ Has Nearly Doubled Its Prosecutions For Child Sex Crimes)

Submarine Group 9 spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Michael Smith explained, saying, “the sailors were not taken to court-martial because there was insufficient evidence that they were aware the victim was underage. The sailors were held accountable for their actions and are being processed for separation.”

According to a Virginia Circuit Court judge who spoke to TheDC on condition of anonymity, the case is likely quite a bit more complicated than it appears at first blush. Sex crimes involving a minor — when it’s conceivable that the accused are truly unaware of the age of said minor — are often difficult to navigate. They are even more difficult, he said, when the question of consent is murky and the “victim” is not also a complaining witness.

He continued:

Many laws require that the defendant know, or should have known, that the victim was underage, and thus a defense to these cases is often that the defendant was mistaken as to the age of the person.  Merely claiming mistake is not sufficient —  the accused most show that he reasonably believed the victim to be overage.  Thus, a defense that a 14-year-old, well-developed female told her partner that she was 16 might be valid.

Still, the fact remains that certain sex acts — regardless of the age of the girl involved — are considered to be punishable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). Article 134, for example, covers “indecent acts with another” regardless of age.

Known more commonly as the “general article,” Article 134 states:

Though not specifically mentioned in this chapter, all disorders and neglects to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces, all conduct of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces, and crimes and offenses not capital, of which persons subject to this chapter may be guilty, shall be taken cognizance of by a general, special or summary court-martial, according to the nature and degree of the offense, and shall be punished at the discretion of that court.

And according to attorney Patrick J. McLain’s website for McLain Military Law, Article 134 has been applied to multiple sex acts that could apply in this particular case:

  • Homosexuality/homosexual acts
  • Nontraditional sexual arrangements
  • Other consensual sex acts considered indecent

Article 134 also addresses adultery and improper sexual relationships — even consensual — between two military members in which one holds rank over the other.

The names of the four petty officers involved have not been publicly released.

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