NORFOLK, Va. — A Virginia Beach-based Navy SEAL has been charged with kidnapping and raping a fellow sailor in a hotel room near Fort Knox, Ky., according to the Navy.
A general court-martial is set to begin Tuesday for Chief Petty Officer Stephen Varanko III at Naval Station Norfolk.
Varanko's court-martial comes at a time when the military finds itself in the spotlight once again for how it attempts to address and prevent sexual assaults within its ranks, following increases in such reports at the Naval and military academies this past year, as well as a growing scandal involving the online requesting and sharing of nude photos of female personnel among Marines and others.
Varanko's case is one of about 1,500 adult sexual assaults reported to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service in 2015, an increase of about 6 percent from the previous year, according to the agency's most recent annual report.
Varanko is assigned to Special Reconnaissance Team Two at Joint Expeditionary Base Little Creek-Fort Story in Virginia Beach. He is charged with four counts of rape, four counts of sexual assault, and one count each of aggravated assault and battery. Varanko also is charged with making a false official statement, provoking speech and for violating a general regulation.
If convicted, Varanko could face a life sentence without parole.
Varanko's military attorneys declined a request for comment. Varanko has not yet entered a plea and is not being confined pending trial, according to the Navy.
The charges primarily stem from an incident on Feb. 26, 2015, in Shepherdsville, Ky. Shepherdsville is outside of Fort Knox, a sprawling 109,000-acre base south of Louisville where special operators conduct a variety of training.
Charge sheets accuse Varanko of threatening the woman and placing her in fear that "she would be subjected to grievous bodily injury."
The aggravated assault and battery charges say Varanko placed his hands around the woman's neck, squeezed until she was unable to breathe, pushed the woman against a wall, pinned her against the floor, placed his knee against her back and put her in a submission hold.
Between March and May 2015, Varanko also is accused of sexually harassing the woman in Kentucky, Indiana and Virginia.
Varanko, from Maryland, joined the Navy in 2006 and was promoted to chief petty officer on Aug. 16, 2015, according to a Navy biography.
Varanko's unit is one of two in the Navy focusing on training, equipping and organizing deployable forces "to conduct preparation of the environment, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, special operations, and combat support for supported commanders, inter-agency and host nation partners," according to a Navy description.
The unit was formerly known as Naval Special Warfare Support Activity Two. The name was changed in 2015 to improve recruiting among SEALs and special warfare combatant-craft crewmen and "more accurately reflect the mission of a non-traditional operational command."
©2017 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)
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