More than 20 years ago, 87 servicewomen were sexually assaulted while serving in the U.S. Navy, in what became known as the "Tailhook scandal." Paula Coughlin-Puopolo was one of the 87.
The Navy Lieutenant reported the incident to senior officers, but they did nothing. So in June 1992 she went public.
President George H.W. Bush said he was appalled and invited Coughlin to the White House. The former president apparently started to cry as Paula shared her story, and he promised a full investigation.
Unfortunately, our military leadership has made no changes to stop this type of predatory criminal behavior. The epidemic of criminal sexual assault and rape within our armed services has only gotten worse. In the Navy's official report about the Tailhook scandal they recommended "intelligent measures to prevent a recurrence." This never happened.
The mission of our military is to protect the American way of life and our freedoms, yet this very mission is compromised by leadership that allows, perpetrates and condones sexual assault on the very members of our armed services.
The military has tried to cover up the epidemic of rape and sexual assault in the military for decades. The Department of Defense estimates that over 19,000 such incidents occurred in 2010 alone but that only 13.5% of sexual assaults are ever reported. Why? Because victims are often blamed, fear career ending retaliation, and are required to report their assault by fellow soldiers to a superior, not law enforcement or medical personnel. And according to the DoD, of those few who did report, over 75% would not make the same decision about reporting again.
Now, a new criminal scandal at Lackland Air Force Base has put one of America's most disgraceful secrets back in the headlines. At least 31 female trainees at Lackland say they were raped or sexually assaulted by their instructors. Many did not come forward for years out of fear of retaliation from their superiors. Gen. Edward Rice, commander of the Air Education and Training Command at Lackland, says that the misconduct is not limited to just Lackland and has ordered an investigation into "systemic issues" in the Air Force.
The Department of Defense reports that 1 in 4 young women who join the service will be raped or sexually assaulted and 1% of men. The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs estimates over half a million vets have experienced military sexual trauma.
The unfolding scandal at Lackland shows how little has changed since Paula dared to come forward and speak out about the predatory criminal behavior at Tailhook. Unfortunately, there are thousands of similar stories every year in our armed forces, but because of our broken system of military justice -- nothing changes. It is like Groundhog Day. Paula has decided to speak up again -- starting a petition demanding that the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon hold a congressional hearing about Lackland immediately. How much longer and how many more of our brave men and women in uniform need to be raped or sexually assaulted before our elected officials do something to end the crisis? The military has proven that it is unable or unwilling to Protect Our Defenders. Congress should open an investigation immediately and then put an end to the "systemic issues" of military rape and sexual assault by legislating fundamental reform. Our government must do more.
Click here to join Paula, and tell the Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon to Protect Our Defenders and open a hearing about Lackland immediately.