Off-campus houses a long-standing problem for Naval Academy

Today, midshipmen still face a long list of restrictions on sex and alcohol, unlike peers at civilian colleges.

Among them: No drinking in Bancroft Hall, no drinking for first-year students, no sex on the Naval Academy Yard, no sex among members of the same company within the Brigade of Midshipmen.

Marine Corps Col. Bobbi Shea, the academy's deputy commandant of midshipmen, said the rules aren't meant to be overly restrictive. Rather, they're designed to mirror many of the restrictions graduates will face when they are young officers in the Navy and Marine Corps.

The 22- and 23-year-old junior officers will need to model good behavior for the younger enlisted sailors and Marines they'll supervise, she said.

"The first step of leadership is setting a good example," said Shea, who works with Byrne to supervise the nonacademic elements of student life at the academy.

The academy has programs to teach midshipmen about drinking responsibly and making appropriate decisions about sex. Over their four years at the academy, midshipmen undergo 30 hours of training on preventing sexual assault.

Each month, the academy holds a dinner for midshipmen who recently turned 21. They're allowed to drink at the dinner and are given a breath test after three drinks, so they can understand how drunk they may be. There are also random breath tests on weekends at Bancroft Hall when midshipmen return from their off-campus liberty.

Getting messages about sex and drinking to resonate with young adults can be challenging, said Charles Corprew, an assistant professor of psychology at Loyola University in New Orleans.

Young men, in particular, are developing ways to express their masculinity. Sometimes that can come at the expense of women, if men feel the need to control women as a way to prove their manhood, said Corprew, whose research has focused on sexual attitudes in fraternities.

In a environment like the Naval Academy — where nearly 80 percent of students are men — it's important to discuss sexuality in a way that encourages openness. That may mean roundtable discussions of only men, he suggested.

An important topic for young men is the idea of consent, Corprew said. His university has a campaign called "Consent is Sexy" to remind students that "sex without consent is rape," he said.

On college campuses "with the hookup culture … the idea of consent is that there's a gray line," he said. "That line becomes blurred, particularly when alcohol is involved. Men need to understand what consent is."

Fleming, the English professor, thinks one way to reduce sexual assaults may be to decriminalize sex at the academy.

If midshipmen are allowed to have consensual sex, it will be easier to teach them about how to avoid problematic sex, such as sex between superiors and subordinates or sex with partners who may be unable to consent.

"The fact that any sex at all is prohibited, that poisons the wells," said Fleming, who has written several books including one titled "Sexual Ethics: Liberal vs. Conservative."

Fleming said the academy's sexual-assault training leaves many male students thinking that even the slightest sexual advance is considered improper. He's heard from midshipmen that the training makes them feel all men are suspect in the eyes of the academy.

"They just let it wash over them," he said. "They're not on board with it. They're implicitly told that they're bad."

Widespread problem

The most recent case involving the "black pineapple" house gives further attention to attempts by the Naval Academy — and the military as a whole — to reduce incidents of sexual assault.

The Pentagon estimates that as many as 26,000 service members were assaulted last year, up from 19,000 the year before. The number of reported incidents rose 6 percent to 3,374.

During the 2011-2012 academic year, there were 80 reports of sexual assaults at the three military academies, a 23 percent increase over the previous year, according to a Pentagon report. The Naval Academy had 13 reported sexual assaults in 2011-2012, down from 22 the previous year.

The most recent case has received widespread coverage in local media, and the accuser and her attorney went on national TV earlier this year.

Carter, the lobbyist and alumnus, said some observers will inevitably think poorly of the academy based on the case. "It reflects badly on the academy to those who don't know the academy well."

But Annapolis residents know sexual assault cases are the exception rather than the rule, he said. Locals are more likely to know about the academy's positive contributions, such as the Midshipmen Action Group, which conducts scores of community service events each year.

During blizzards in 2010, midshipmen volunteered to go into town to shovel driveways and sidewalks, Carter said.

"They're great kids, and this is unfortunate," he said. "It's not good."