She raped herself

Why is 20-year-old Airman Cassandra M. Hernandez facing court-martial after refusing to testify against three men she accused of rape?

Published August 9, 2007 8:30PM (EDT)

This year's ugly irony award has got to go to the case of 20-year-old Airman Cassandra M. Hernandez, who now faces court-martial after refusing to testify against three men she accused of raping her. Hernandez told WRAL, a CBS affiliate in North Carolina, that she'd been gang-raped by three fellow airmen after a party on May 16, 2006, but chose not to testify after feeling pressured by the Air Force and meeting with one of the defense attorneys without her victim's advocate. In a letter (quoted by addressed to Texas Gov. Rick Perry, Hernandez explained that "under enormous stress and after consultation with the legal office, I made the decision not to testify ... the pressure of the judicial process was too much for me, and I felt like no one was looking out for my interests."

And what is Hernandez's reward for succumbing to intimidation -- I mean legal advice -- from the other side? The Air Force has charged her with committing "indecent acts" with the three men, as well as underage drinking. (As Feministing notes, the definition of indecent act according to military code seems slippery at best.) But that's not even the weirdest part: The three accused officers have been granted immunity in return for their testimony against her. If Hernandez is telling the truth, she's effectively being prosecuted for her own rape.

Hernandez doesn't dispute the fact that she attended the party at Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina and that she drank alcohol there. But other details call the military's claim that the sex was consensual into question: Hernandez ended up in a hospital that night, where she received counseling and therapy in relation to the incident.

Of course, as with all cases of she said/he said -- or, in this case, she said/they said -- it's unwise to rush to judgment in either direction (remember that other North Carolina gang rape accusation involving lacrosse players?). Still, one has to wonder, what in the hell is the Air Force thinking? Even according to the military's twisted logic, a case of indecency against the woman implies an equally good case against the men whose participation made whatever went on (arguably) indecent. How can they reasonably argue that the indecency was the fault of 25 percent of the participants? What's going to be their argument -- that in the case of sex involving one female minor and three men, the young woman is by definition the guilty temptress and men need to be offered immunity to prosecute her?

That seems a little far-fetched -- even for a society with a habit of villainizing female sexuality. Maybe the men should argue something more believable -- like a sleepwalking defense. In any case, doesn't the military have a P.R. flack who can remind prosecutors that these cases aren't exactly good publicity when the military's struggling with low recruitment and escalating body counts?

By Carol Lloyd

Carol Lloyd is currently at work on a book about the gentrification wars in San Francisco's Mission District.

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