An army instructor who cupped the breast of a female recruit during a first-aid demonstration at a military barracks several years ago has been found guilty of sexual assault by a military court.
The non-commissioned officer, who cannot be named to protect the identify of his victim, was also found guilty of conduct prejudicial to good order and discipline contrary to Section 168 of the Defence Act 1954 for placing his groin into the back of his victim during the same demonstration while remarking: “I would not stand like that as it looks wrong.” However, the soldier was found not guilty of a similar charge for remarking: “She has certainly done that before”, when another female recruit pretended to remove a shirt from a mannequin during the same training session.
The military judge for the Defence Forces, Colonel Michael Campion, said the comment was “unnecessary and inappropriate” but there was no evidence that it was prejudicial to good order and discipline as it did not appear to have made any impression on the recruits at the time. The soldier had pleaded not guilty to all charges.
During a three-day trial before the summary court martial in the Military Justice Centre at McKee Barracks in Dublin last month, evidence was heard that the instructor was teaching a first-aid course to a group of female recruits and was giving a practical demonstration in methods to prevent choking when the sexual assault happened.
The specific location and date of the offence cannot be published as a result of reporting restrictions imposed by the judge.
The victim told the court martial that the instructor had got her to lean forward before placing his hand across her chest with a closed fist to demonstrate a method of slapping a choking person on the back. As she straightened up, however, his hand opened to cup her breast as he stood explaining the manoeuvre to other recruits.
“I kind of froze. I felt very uncomfortable and was a little bit in shock and did not know how to react,” she recalled.
The witness said it felt like her breast was cupped for an extended period which she estimated at 10-20 seconds. A short time later during a demonstration of the Heimlich manoeuvre, the woman said the instructor had pulled her back into him to demonstrate a wrong way of doing the technique.
She said the instructor kept his hand on her waist in an inappropriate way which made her feel very uncomfortable. The woman said it appeared like he had a sexual motive for what he was doing.
She said she had not reported the incident immediately as she felt embarrassed and just wanted to get through training. Several other female recruits also gave evidence that the instructor had kept his hand on the victim’s breast for an unnecessarily long period.
One witness said she could see by the victim’s face that she was shocked by what had happened.
The accused had testified that the manoeuvre required him to place his left hand across the upper part of the female recruit’s chest to support and balance her while giving blows to her back.
He said his hand had only been placed there for a few seconds just long enough to demonstrate the technique.
Asked by his counsel, David Staunton BL, if he cupped the woman’s breast, he replied: “Absolutely not, sir. No.” He also strenuously denied having any intention of doing anything inappropriate or sexual.
The soldier’s legal team had also argued in a closing submission that some physical contact between the instructor and recruit was necessary to demonstrate various techniques and what had occurred was “very fleeting.” In his ruling, Col Campion said there had been a direct conflict of evidence but he had found the victim to be “a credible and reliable witness”.
The judge said what occurred was not fleeting or accidental touching. He noted that the instructor had begun the demonstration with a closed fist but the recruit’s breast was “sitting in his hand” by the end.
Col Campion observed that it was not credible that the instructor would have left his hand “in situ” while continuing to address the class if the touching had been accidental. The judge said it was also not credible for someone to touch another person’s intimate area and not be aware they had done so.
He remarked that the assault had taken place against a background where there had also been sexually suggestive comments and innuendo. The soldier, who was accompanied by his wife to court, was ordered to appear before a pre-sentencing court martial hearing next month.