Military rape trial begins at Mayport Naval Station

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Explicit and sometimes incendiary language defined the first day of testimony in a rape trial at Mayport Naval Station.

Petty Officer Alpha Omega Dowlen is on trial for allegedly sexually assaulting Navy Seaman Christine Sapp. She claims he engaged in non consensual oral sex and intercourse with her at her house after an afternoon of drinking and watching football.

Sapp (who is being identified because she has previously spoken about her case to First Coast News) was the first witness to take the stand in the case, tearfully testifying that Dowlen assaulted her in September 2012. Prosecutors played a portion of a controlled call that investigators recorded between the two after the incident. In the call, Dowlen says, "you said 'no,' but you didn't really fight me, you know?"

The case comes at a time when the military is trying to turn around its image on sexual assaults. A Pentagon survey estimated some 26,000 military men and women were sexually assaulted in 2012, but only 3,374 of those were reported, and just one in 10 actually taken to trial.Defense attorney Lt. Brian Henning offered a spirited opening statement, however, urging the members of the court -- Navy officers empaneled to render a verdict -- to "look for the inconsistencies" in Sapp's story. He wrapped up his opening statement with a phrase he says Sapp once used to describe herself, calling his client "an innocent man who got caught up in the wrath of a cold-hearted b****." The defense contends Sapp consented to the sex and and only reported it as rape months later in order to win back a former fiance.

Lawyers on both sides addressed the heightened awareness of and frequency of rape in the military. Two of the seven court members who will render a verdict have sat on previous rape courts martial, and a third knows two former military colleagues accused of rape. Three others were stricken from the panel because they knew or had dealt with military rape victims personally. Prosecutor Andrew Hoffland attributed this to the large number of rape cases in the Navy's Southeast judicial district, and said that if the defense attempted to strike all potential panel members that had experience with rape, "pretty soon this judicial circuit is going to run out of members."

The case is expected to last until Friday.


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