Survivors detail effects of sexual assault in Naval Academy midshipman's court-martial
By HEATHER MONGILIO | The Capital | Published: August 14, 2020
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Tribune News Service) — An ensign in the Navy worried how being labeled a sexual assault victim would affect her naval career. She wanted people to see her as a team captain or an accomplished midshipman. Never a victim.
She recalled a time when she was at the Naval Academy where she had to give a speech before the superintendent and commandant of the midshipmen.
“And all I could see is them looking back at me and wondering if they saw me as a victim or as ... a first class midshipman,” she said.
She was the first of three sexual assault survivors to testify in the court-martial against midshipman Nixon Keago, whose sentencing was scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Friday. He was found guilty of sexual assault, attempted sexual assault, obstruction of justice and burglary. The Capital does not identify survivors of sexual assault.
After the ensign’s sexual assault, while at the Naval Academy, her schoolwork and her relationship with her family suffered. It changed her personality.
She was also plagued with guilt, she said, after hearing about the other incidences with the midshipmen.
“I felt that if I had reported earlier, these things may not have happened to [the two midshipmen,]” she said.
Keago is the latest midshipman to go to court-martial on sexual assault charges. A midshipman was found not guilty in 2019 after being charged with sexual assault.
The Naval Academy leadership has preached a no-tolerance policy for sexual assault. But even as people talk about zero tolerance, reports of sexual violence at the academy rose.
The academy reported 33 sexual assault reports for the 2018-2019 academic year, an increase of five from the previous year. Sexual harassment reports also rose from two to four.
Some of the incidents that led to Keago’s charges occurred during that time period.
The ensign’s testimony during the court-martial in July was followed by the last woman to report that he attempted to sexually assault her while at a Naval Fleet Week in New York.
Like the ensign before her, the midshipman said she had trouble sleeping. She was angry and felt like she couldn’t trust anyone.
“Before the incident, I didn’t feel vulnerable to the world,” she said.
The midshipman also gave an unsworn statement, in which she told the court how she no longer feels safe in a male-dominated academy. Even after other allegations against Keago, the academy let him attend the Fleet Week cruise, she said.
“I felt and I still feel as if the academy betrayed me,” she said.
The last to testify was the midshipman whose report opened the investigation into Keago that eventually led to the charges and the court-martial.
The midshipman took a deep breath as she sat in the same witness box where she had gone through the night of the assault. The courtroom was silent. Silent as she walked to the witness stand. Silent as she left it.
The first week after the assault was the worst, she said.
She could not sleep after Keago attacked her. She tried to change her mattress in hopes that it would help. It did not. The lack of sleep meant she would fall asleep in class. When she did sleep, she had nightmares of Keago assaulting her.
“I just can’t put that image from my mind,” she testified.
It also changed her behavior, she said. The midshipman was uncomfortable around men. She tried locking her room at Bancroft Hall, but the door’s locking mechanism meant she ended up locking her roommate out. So instead, she would use boxes and furniture to keep her room safe.
“Our room looked like an episode of hoarders,” she said.
The midshipman still thinks about the sexual assault, she said.
“I wish I didn’t have to think about it anymore,” she said.
The defense was also able to call witnesses during the trial, including Keago’s adoptive mother, his sister and an adoptive sister.
All talked about Keago’s background, how he came to the United States seven years after his mother’s death in Kenya. How he grew up in poverty.
They talked about how he enlisted in the Marine Corps before working to attend the academy.
And they talked about his role in their children’s lives and in his daughter’s life. Keago, in his own statement, also talked about his fear of his child growing up without him.
Sentencing in a military trial typically takes place after a guilty verdict and, in a court-martial, is run almost as if it was a mini-trial. The prosecution and defense attorneys both make opening and closing statements and call witnesses before deliberation.
In Keago’s case, the sentencing portion of the court-martial had started but then was delayed three weeks after Keago reportedly starting showing symptoms of COVID-19.
Keago’s sister, Nancy Moraa, said in an interview that the family has concerns about the sentencing. They worry that the delay will make it so the members forgot some of the emotional aspects of the testimony.
The defense had tried to delay the court-martial due to COVID-19 concerns, but Judge Capt. Aaron Rugh ultimately denied the motion.
The sentencing delay is evidence that the defense’s fears were correct, Moraa said.
In a letter Keago wrote, which Moraa sent to The Capital, Keago said he was innocent. As his defense attorneys claimed during the trial, he said the two incidents with the ensign and the midshipman on the Fleet Week cruise were consensual. He claims they only said it was sexual assault so they would not get in trouble.
With the first midshipmen to report, Keago said there was never anything sexual that happened between them. Instead, he said that he saw her drunkenly go back to her room and that he went to see if she was OK.
Moraa said that once the trial is complete, including sentencing, Keago will likely appeal.
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