He kissed her.
She kissed him back.
He did a tequila shot off her bare breast.
She did shots off another guy in the room.
She said she was too drunk to consent to what happened later.
He said he was, too.
Now Douglas Meester could face life in prison.
Justine Parks had never met Meester until that night. But the petite freshman at the United States Air Force Academy had had a bad day, so when a friend invited her back to Meester's dorm room to have a drink with them, she agreed. She had a few hours before she planned to meet up with her boyfriend, but she got so drunk that she missed their date. Parks says she wasn't much of a drinker -- she had had alcohol only three times before that night -- so it took just a few tequila shots before her limbs started feeling numb and she began blacking out. Plus, she'd had a drink earlier in the evening with her roommate. Eventually, the friend who invited her went back to his own room, and Meester's roommate went to sleep. And that, she says, is when Meester, a sophomore, raped and sodomized her. Parks says she was too weak to resist and doesn't recall ever saying "no." However, she told investigators that she "knew for a fact that he probably thought what we were doing was consensual."
But it may not matter what Meester thought. Military instructions state that consent "may not be inferred if resistance would have been futile under the totality of the circumstances...or where she is unable to resist because of the lack of mental or physical faculties."
Parks's testimony came at an Article 32 hearing held last week for Meester, who's been charged with rape, forcible sodomy, conduct unbecoming and indecent assault. The hearing is intended to determine whether there's enough evidence to forward the case to a court-martial. A separate Article 32 hearing was held May 7 and 8 for a male cadet accused of forcing a female cadet to give him a hand job, but Meester is the first cadet to be formally charged with rape since Parks and other female cadets went public in January with stories of rape and mistreatment by academy officials after reporting the crimes ("The War Within," January 30).
Parks, who has since left the academy, received several punishments for violating rules the night she reported being raped, such as underage drinking and sexual activity in the dorm. Parks's cadet advocate, a member of a victim-assistance program on base, was so angered that he resigned. "I cannot volunteer to support a policy of punishing victims for coming forward. I worry what this institution, and in fact the military, is coming to when the victim of a crime must fear coming forward for fear of reprisal or criminal prosecution," he noted in his November resignation letter.
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Because cases like Parks's have come to light in the past four months, the secretary of the Air Force and the chief of staff changed academy policy to state that "in all reported cases of sexual assault, amnesty from academy discipline arising in connection with the alleged offense will be extended to all cadets involved with the exception of the alleged assailant."
That's bad news for cadets like Meester, who, in statements to Air Force investigators said his level of intoxication should have left him equally blameless. According to military instructions, "the accused's voluntary intoxication may not be considered in deciding whether the accused reasonably believed that [the victim] consented to sexual intercourse."
Meester's academy-appointed defense attorney, Kathleen Reder, pleaded with the investigating officer not to scapegoat her client because of the media hype and congressional pressure surrounding the rape scandal. That officer has eight days to recommend whether the case should continue on to a court-martial. Colonel John Miller, the 10th Air Base Wing Commander, has the authority to convene a special court-martial, in which the maximum sentence is two years' confinement; if Miller and the academy's legal counsel choose to pursue all charges against Meester, the case could instead go to a general court-martial, where the maximum sentence is life imprisonment. In that case, the commandant, superintendent or an off-base party with the power to call a general court-martial would have to make that decision.
"Because it's such a politically charged case, it's probably going to go to a court-martial no matter what the investigating officer recommends," says Parks's civilian attorney, Steve Werner.