TODAY   |  June 04, 2013

Navy football players accused of sexual assault

In the latest of a string of sexual assault allegations in the military, defense officials confirm three Naval Academy football players are being investigated for allegedly assaulting an unconscious female midshipman at a party last year. NBC’s Jim Miklaszewski reports.

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>> micklezewski, good morning to you.

>> this on top of the latest incident at the elite naval academy which allegedly involves a volatile combination of sex, alcohol and football. defense officials confirm three navy football players are under investigation for allegedly assaulting an unconscious female mid shipman at a party last year. the victim's attorney claims when her client reported the incident, she was disciplined for drinking but the three football players went unpunished and were permitted to play out the season.

>> the message that was being sent loud and clear was that she was getting in trouble for coming forward and yet nothing was happening to the men that were involved in the wrongdoing.

>> reporter: the alleged incident occurred as sexual assaults in the military rose to record highs. the pentagon estimates its sexual assaults skyrocketed last year from 19,000 to 26,000. the pentagon estimates that sexual assaults skyrocketed from 19,000 to 26,000, that includes two recent incidents involving military members entrusted with protecting victims against sexual abuse . one has been charged with sexual battery . pressure is now growing in congress to change the military culture that often protects the accused by changing the way the military justice system pursues and prosecutes sexual assault cases.

>> these have to be treated like the crimes they are, crimes of violence, crimes of aggression, crimes of dominance.

>> president obama told these graduates sexual assault poses a serious threat to the entire military.

>> that's why we have to be determined to stop these crimes, because they've got no place in the greatest military honor.

>> reporter: but one senior was missing, not allowed to graduate pending the current investigation into the latest academy sex scandal .

>> and mick, back to what's going to happen on the hill, there's one proposal to remove the authority from demand commanders to determine whether the cases go to trial. how is the military brass likely to respond to that?

>> for the first time we're hearing from many lawmakers, most of them women who are more encouraged than ever that there will be some change, they think it will be incremental and they've still got a long battle ahead of them but i can tell you all this public attention is already making a difference. this victim at the naval academy , this alleged victim apparently came forward, she was encouraged by all this attention to seek out a lawyer in the private sector though, not a military attorney. savannah?

>> we will hear more about this today, jim, thank you