Gwen Marie Dreyer figured she had two choices on that cold December afternoon when two male midshipmen handcuffed her to a bathroom urinal in a U.S. Naval Academy dormitory, while a dozen other male midshipmen stood by snapping photographs, taunting and applauding.
“When I look back at it, I should have cried when they took me in there,” the Encinitas woman said. “I was angry and I was upset. At the time, I told myself that I had two choices: I could cry or just go along with it.
“And so I went along with it. I begged them to stop. But I wasn’t about to cry in front of a bunch of plebes.”
In what Naval Academy officials have called a case of “good-natured high jinks” that got out of hand, several midshipmen held females out of the bathroom while others shouted encouragement to the men who circled Dreyer, pretending to urinate on her.
“For a second, I knew what it was like to be raped--but I knew they wouldn’t do that to me,” the 19-year-old said Tuesday, detailing the Dec. 8 incident that has since triggered several investigations into sexual harassment and other alleged misconduct at the academy in Annapolis, Md.
“But after the whole thing was over, one of the guys told my roommate that this kind of thing was going to keep happening until we, the female midshipmen, got a sense of humor.”
Last month, Dreyer wrote a letter of resignation to the academy, citing the bathroom incident and the treatment of women in general.
Rear Adm. Virgil L. Hill Jr., superintendent of the academy, has ordered two special inquiries into the treatment of women at the school, and a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee has urged Defense Secretary Richard Cheney and Navy Secretary Lawrence Garrett to launch a probe of recent incidents, including an alleged rape on campus of a woman by a midshipman. In addition, the House Armed Services Committee plans its own investigation.
Dreyer’s case has also drawn national attention to the second-year midshipman who once dreamed of following the academy careers of her father and grandfather.
Since the news of her resignation broke two weeks ago, Dreyer said, she has been hounded for newspaper, TV and magazine interviews. On Tuesday morning, she awoke to find a CNN camera crew on the front porch of her North County home.
Sipping from a glass of ice water at a Carlsbad restaurant, she said she was tired of all the publicity and just wants to go back to being a normal 19-year-old.
“The last thing I wanted was this kind of attention,” she said, “having your picture plastered all over the newspapers and television because you got handcuffed to a urinal, rather than getting publicity because you made a discovery, did something good.”
If anything good comes from the attention, she says, it will be getting the word out about the treatment of women at the Naval Academy, which first allowed admission of female midshipmen 14 years ago.
“This was not just a case of hazing at all,” Dreyer said. “It has to do with being a woman. Women are integrated into the academy but they’re not accepted. And that feeling is great among the male midshipmen there.
“I mean, this type of thing shouldn’t happen to anybody, but it goes on there. It happens to men, too, but they don’t say anything--many of them just leave.”
Dreyer is angry about the way the Navy handled its inquiry into the handcuffing incident. Two midshipmen were punished with demerits and loss of leave time. Six others received written warnings for lesser roles in the case.
Dreyer feels the Navy dragged its heels on the investigation, then gave the midshipmen no more than a slap on the wrist and tried to pass the incident off as an innocent prank.
Moreover, she said, academy officials have taken the photographs of the incident and are trying to use them against her.
“They said they took the pictures so that nothing like this would ever happen again,” she said. “But now they’re trying to use them against me. They told my father that they have the pictures to prove that I was not under any undue duress that day because I wasn’t crying or screaming.
“They also asked my father just how well he knew me, insinuating that I gladly went along with the whole thing. But I was trained at the academy not to cry, not to show that I had been broken. I was just doing what I was trained to do.”
Cmdr. Ed Kujat, executive assistant to Admiral Hill, declined to comment on the photographs. He said, however, that the case was an “isolated incident” and not indicative of widespread sexual discrimination among the academy’s 4,334 students, of which women make up about 10%.
Dreyer said she had been the victim of “crude looks and comments” by several midshipmen in her company even before the incident.
Last fall, Dreyer said, she went to a midshipman who was in her senior year for advice on how to handle the attitude she says has contributed to a female dropout rate of more than 50% at the academy.
“I asked her how to cope with the looks and the comments--whether to say something back or just laugh it off,” Dreyer recalled. “She said I should hear some of the stories that have come from the 2nd Regiment.
“The idea was that this kind of treatment from males was pretty widespread and that other girls had it as bad or worse.”
On the day of the handcuffing incident--a Friday night before the annual Army-Navy football game--a male friend threw several snowballs into her dorm room as she studied, Dreyer said. Moments later, she threw a snowball back, hitting the midshipman in the face, she said. He grabbed her.
“It was all friendly, but he was on the wrestling team--a power lifter--and he started to hurt me until my roommate told him to stop,” she said.
A short time later, the midshipman returned to her room with another midshipman, grabbed Dreyer, and carried her to the nearby men’s bathroom.
She said female midshipmen urged her to keep quiet about the attack. But three days later, a tearful Dreyer called her father and stepmother in nearby Alexandria, Va., to tell them of the incident. “They went through the roof,” she said.
Dreyer, who plans to study engineering at California State Polytechnic University in San Luis Obispo, said she feels robbed of a budding naval career.
But she hopes her experiences will save others from what she went through.
“I still believe in what the academy’s all about,” she said. “That’s what hurts the most.”