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Army Women Describe Rapes as Trial Opens

Court-Martial: Superiors portrayed as ignoring rules in pursuit of sex. Service's reputation takes collateral damage.

April 15, 1997|PAUL RICHTER | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ABERDEEN, Md. — A succession of women made public for the first time Monday their accusations against the noncommissioned officer portrayed as the worst offender in the Army's widening sex scandal, but their testimony may have inflicted its heaviest damage on the reputation of the service itself.

As they described rapes and assaults allegedly committed by Staff Sgt. Delmar G. Simpson, former trainees at the Aberdeen Proving Ground portrayed a seemingly unsupervised installation where rules created to keep order and protect subordinate women appeared to be uniformly ignored in the pursuit of sex.

The women described a base where two drill sergeants vied to amass the longest list of sexual conquests, where female recruits carried on intimate relationships with several drill sergeants at once and where a well-intentioned system for reminding women of sexual-harassment rules was blandly ignored.

One witness, Private Idina Hodges, said that, after she had been at the Maryland ordnance school only two weeks, she began hearing "rumors about this person having sex with drill sergeants, about this person sneaking out, about this person was 'fine'--and things like that." Hodges allegedly was kissed by Simpson against her will.

Army rules specify that to avoid exploitation drill sergeants are not to date, or even to touch, the young women they supervise--restrictions even tougher than those governing most civilian supervisors. One senior Army officer, told of the day's testimony, predicted that it would add a new urgency to demands for responses to the problem and increase complaints from conservatives who oppose mixed-gender training altogether.

"We've got to admit that something is really wrong in the culture of the Army," said this officer, who asked to remain unidentified.

The court-martial is underway while the secretary of the Army and other Pentagon officials seek a sweeping remedy for sexual abuses that have been alleged at bases in several parts of the country.

Simpson, 32, a 6-foot-4 North Carolina native, faces far more serious charges than any of the other 11 Aberdeen servicemen who are scheduled for court-martial. Although more than half of the charges against Simpson were abandoned before trial, he still faces 19 charges of rape and 39 other charges, including forced oral sodomy, assault and battery.

In proceedings in a tiny and austere military courtroom, the six military jurors heard two women allege that Simpson had raped them, another describe how Simpson had propositioned her and a fourth tell how he had kissed her against her will. Two of the four said that they thought Simpson was brutal while two others declared him a fair, though strict, boss. But they all agreed that he was keenly interested in the women under his command.

One witness, a blond 21-year-old Alabamian, testified that Simpson, whose third-floor office was above a first-floor female barracks, had always been especially tough on her. He ordered her to do about 50 push-ups each time he saw her, she said.

One night, she testified, Simpson caught her returning from the bathroom at a time when she was supposed to be in bed. He bawled her out, she testified, then ordered her to his office two floors above.

Soon Simpson appeared, seized her, and began roughly kissing her. Clapping his hand over her mouth, he forced her down on a couch and raped her, she testified.

She was shamed and felt dirty, she said, but did not tell her friends because she did not want other recruits to know that she had joined his "list" of conquests. The women knew, she said, that Simpson and another drill sergeant "had a thing to see who could get more women. . . . I didn't want to be on his list either."

Another witness, a 22-year-old Los Angeles native, acknowledged that she had carried on relationships with two drill sergeants during her time at Aberdeen. But she insisted that it was not consensual on the night Simpson allegedly attacked her in his office.

She had gone to "tell him off" for constantly finding fault with her appearance and behavior, she said. But he leaned back in his chair and "just laughed," and then, when she was about to leave, seized her by the arms and raped her on his couch.

Afterward, she testified, he asked: "Am I going to see you this week?"

Soon after that incident, another drill sergeant, who was the woman's boyfriend, was pressuring her to explain why she was so upset, and no longer "happy-go-lucky," she testified. She told him of the encounter, but said it was consensual rather than rape.

"If I reported it, I'd still be [at Aberdeen]," she said, and in a "big mess."

She said that Simpson used to go around saying, "Women love me. They can't resist me."

A fourth witness, Pvt. Minerva Valdivia, testified that Simpson would boast of his sexual conquests among the women, and on one occasion asked her for sex.

"I took it as a joke," she said.

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