A military appeals court's reversal of a West Point cadet's rape conviction and 21-year prison sentence has outraged sexual assault victim advocates who say the decision is filled with victim-blaming and antiquated notions about rape. But the cadet's attorney says the decision demonstrates the need for checks and balances on court martial panels hand-picked by commanders under pressure to convict. A three-judge panel of the US Army Court of Criminal Appeals on Monday ordered cadet Jacob Whisenhunt released from confinement and reinstated at the US Military Academy, per the AP. He was convicted in 2017 of three counts of sexual assault and had served two years behind bars before he was released and returned to the academy. His appeal had focused on reducing his sentence, but the appeals panel, which had two females and one male, opted to throw out the charges after reviewing the evidence and finding it "factually insufficient."
Whisenhunt was charged with raping a female classmate in her sleeping bag during summer field training in 2016. He testified the encounter was consensual and that both had tried to be quiet so nearby squad members wouldn't hear. The woman testified she froze in a fetal position when she awoke to find Whisenhunt assaulting her. The judges found it implausible that she'd stay quiet while being raped and that Whisenhunt would be brazen enough to think he'd get away with it. The judges said their doubt rose because Whisenhunt hadn't threatened the woman or tried to silence her, "such as covering her mouth to prevent an outcry." Retired Col. Don Christensen, head of the advocacy group Protect Our Defenders says, "It's an offensively bad decision filled with victim-blaming, a poor understanding of the impact of sexual assault on survivors, and an incredibly stupid analysis of whether perpetrators will commit offenses against people they know." Much more on the case here. (Read more West Point stories.)