The Coughlin Courage Award

Each year Protect Our Defenders presents the Coughlin Courage Award to an advocate or survivor of military sexual assault who has shown special courage. The award is named for Paula Coughlin, the unstoppable former naval aviator survivor who unmasked the military’s sexual assault crisis in 1992, revealing the Tailhook scandal in the national press.

To nominate a survivor or advocate for the next Coughlin Courage Award, please contact us. The POD board considers all suggestions and makes its selection annually in November. See also: the POD Justice Award, a separate award given to attorneys working especially hard on behalf of assault survivors.

Coughlin Courage Award Recipients

2022 – Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (Co-recipient)

After years of working to reform the military justice system alongside Senator Gillibrand, we were exceptionally proud to award her for her steadfast commitment to providing a more professionalized and equitable military justice system for survivors. Senator Gillibrand introduced the original version of her Military Justice Improvement Act in 2013. And every year since, she has continued to raise the alarm for the desperate need for change, and has been an incredible ally for survivors. We were finally able to claim victory together after the passage of both FY22 NDAA and FY23 NDAA, which saw the creation of the Office of the Special Trial Counsel to make all prosecutorial decisions for sexual assault and 13 other felony offenses starting in January 2024. Senator Gillibrand, we applaud you for your unflinching service to service members, veterans, dependents, and civilians!

Photo: POD Director of Programs & Policy Adelaide Kahn-Fowler, Paula Coughlin, and Protect Our Defenders President & CEO Jennifer Elmore present the 2022 award to Senator Gillibrand.



2022 – Congresswoman Jackie Speier (Co-recipient)

Congresswoman Speier has been an unshakable voice for survivors of military sexual assault. From grilling top Pentagon brass in public Congressional hearings, to delivering over 20 speeches giving voice to the experiences of survivors from the U.S. House floor, to her bravery sharing her own personal #MeToo story, to the introduction of her landmark I am Vanessa Guillén Act (key elements of which were signed into law in 2021), she has never stopped fighting for survivors. Speier’s legacy in Congress will have a long-lasting impact on survivors of military sexual assault.

Photo: POD Director of Programs & Policy Adelaide Kahn-Fowler, POD President Don Christensen, and POD Vice Chair Jennifer Elmore present the 2022 award to Congresswoman Speier.



2021 – Survivor Amy Marsh

A US Air Force spouse, Amy received the Coughlin Courage Award for her role bringing to light the ongoing failures of the military justice system in her stirring public testimony before the US Senate Armed Services Committee (video).

Photo: Paula Coughlin and Protect Our Defenders President Don Christensen present the 2021 award to Amy Marsh.



2020 – Survivor Terri J. Odom

A US Navy veteran, Terri received the inaugural Coughlin Courage Award for her decades-long work to help survivors like herself, with a special emphasis on LGBT survivors. Watch a video about Terri’s experience.

Photo: Protect Our Defenders Executive Chair Nancy Parrish presents the 2020 award to Terri via a video chat due to the Covid pandemic.