Tailhook Whistleblower Delivers 10,000 Petitions to Rep. Buck McKeon Demanding a Lackland Hearing and Investigation About Air Force Sexual Abuse Scandal

August 2, 2012
CONTACT: Brian Purchia



Protect Our Defenders and military sexual assault survivors travel to our nation’s capital, tell Chairman of House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon closed-door Lackland briefing not acceptable, demand open investigation and legislation to fix broken system

Washington DC – Last month, Tailhook whistleblower, Paula Coughlin-Puopolo started an online petition on Causes.com and Protect Our Defenders demanding that the Chairman of House Armed Services Committee, Rep. Buck McKeon (R-Los Angeles County) open a congressional hearing about the criminal sexual abuse scandal at Lackland Air Force Base. Today, the former Naval Aviator and military sexual assault survivor was joined by Protect Our Defenders Advocacy Board Members and survivors Brian Lewis and Jenny McClendon in our nation’s capital as they delivered 10,000 petitions to Rep. McKeon demanding a hearing on the widening sexual abuse scandal at Lackland.

At least 38 female trainees at the Air Force’s sole recruiting center in San Antonio, Texas say they were raped or sexually assaulted by their instructors. The officer who would be the Air Force’s new Chief of Staff, Gen. Mark Welsh III recently told Congress, “what we have been doing is not working” to address the epidemic of sexual assault in the military. But, Rep. McKeon has yet to call for a hearing and investigation about the criminal scandal at Lackland. Instead, Rep. McKeon is holding a closed-door briefing with the Air Force Secretary.

“It is time for our elected officials that have been put in charge of oversight of our armed services to do their job. Lackland is just the tip of the iceberg – the most current example of a much larger problem,” said Nancy Parrish, President of Protect Our Defenders. “Of course, the Air Force must investigate and prosecute the few cases that have actually been reported, but that won’t fix the broken system. After the most visible instances are adjudicated they will declare mission accomplished – until the next time – and there will be a next time without fundamental reforms. We must not let Lackland become another footnote in history of government failing to fix the epidemic of sexual assault in our military, as was the case with Tailhook in 1991 and Aberdeen in 1997.”

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 was one of the 87. The former Naval Aviator reported the incident to senior officers, but they did nothing. So she went public. Today, Paula is going public again demanding Rep. McKeon open a congressional hearing about Lackland and then legislate fundamental reforms.

“Causes exists to empower anyone to build a grassroots movement for change,” said Matt Mahan, Causes CEO. “We feel privileged to be a platform for engaged citizens like Paula Coughlin-Puopolo to get out their message and rally others in support of their cause.”

Seventy-eight members of Congress have also called on Rep. Buck McKeon to open a Lackland hearing and now more than 10,000 citizens have demanded it.

“How many serial sexual assault trials in the military is it going to take before Congress does something real and effective to remove the reporting of assaults from of the chain of command and into a third party,” said military sexual assault survivor, Paula Coughlin-Puopolo.

Last year, there were an estimated 19,000 military rapes and sexual assaults, but only 3,200 victims reported the attacks and out of those only 191 cases resulted in court martial conviction. The Department of Veteran Affairs estimates that there are now over a half a million veterans that have experienced military sexual trauma.

“This is a problem that can be fixed. It’s being addressed in the Catholic Church, it’s being addressed at Penn State – it must be addressed in the military. There are no excuses for our elected leaders to stand on the sidelines and not take fundamental action,” said survivor Brian Lewis.

The Department of Defense estimates that only 13.5% of sexual assaults in 2010 were reported. And of those few that did report, over 75% wouldn’t do so again if given the chance. 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.

Ms. McClendon, now a college professor believes that the Sexual Assault Training Oversight and Prevention Act – or STOP Act (H.R. 3435) is the best legislative option to strengthen our military and fix the core problem. The legislation removes the reporting, oversight, investigation, and victim care from the normal chain of command and places jurisdiction in an autonomous and unbiased office comprised of civilian and military experts. Introduced by Congresswoman Jackie Speier (D-San Francisco/San Mateo) the STOP Act currently has 125 co-sponsors.

“You cannot trust the military under its current structure to effectively treat sexual assault,” said McClendon. “They can’t be trusted with the investigation, the treatment of the victim and the prosecution of the criminal. So why can they be trusted with coming up with a plan to fix the epidemic? The DOD cannot effectively police itself. We need outside intervention.”

Over the past year Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has announced several half measures to address the crisis of military sexual trauma, like bumping the reporting of rape and sexual assault further up the chain of command. But, this does little to address the problem. Many survivors have made it abundantly clear that senior commanders are just as capable of covering up assaults and frequently do. Commanders are incentivized to sweep problems under the rug as their careers can be adversely affected if a rape or sexual assault happens under their watch. And the DOD reports, “39% of women report that the perpetrator was a military person of higher rank and 23% indicated the offender was someone in their chain of command.”

Paula Coughlin-Puopolo’s petition demanding Congress investigates the Lackland sexual assault scandal can be viewed here:


Watch Professor Jenny McClendon’s Story:

For more information on the STOP Act, please visit: http://www.protectourdefenders.com/policy-statement/legislation/

Contact info for the House Armed Services Committee for comment:
Claude Chafin, Claude.Chafin@mail.house.gov (202) 225-4151

Contact info for Rep. Buck McKeon’s office for comment:
Alissa McCurley, Alissa.McCurley@mail.house.gov 202-225-1956

About Protect Our Defenders: Protect Our Defenders is a human rights organization. We seek to honor, support and give voice to the brave women and men in uniform who have been sexually assaulted while serving their country, and re-victimized by the military adjudication system – a system that often blames the victim and fails to prosecute the perpetrator. Learn more about Protect Our Defenders at www.protectourdefenders.com or on Facebook at http://facebook.com/ProtectOurDefenders or follow us on Twitter at https://twitter.com/ProtectRDfnders.