(WASHINGTON) — Paula Coughlin-Puopolo, the whistle-blower in Tailhook, one of the military’s largest sexual assault scandals, unveiled a petition Wednesday calling on the House Armed Services Committee to investigate the unfolding military sex scandal at Lackland Air Force base.
Twelve male drill instructors have come under scrutiny for sexual misconduct with female Air Force members during training at Lackland in San Antonio, Texas, where all incoming airmen and airwomen attend boot camp.
“Unfortunately, our military leadership has made no changes that stop this predatory criminal behavior. The epidemic of criminal sexual assault and rape within our armed services has only gotten worse,” Coughlin-Puopolo wrote in her petition.
“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? 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.”
The Air Force investigation has identified 31 female victims of sexual assault incidents that date back to 2009 at Lackland. The Air Force, which first learned of the incidents last fall when a female Air Force member stepped forward with an allegation of sexual misconduct, is surveying all the airmen who trained at Lackland in the past one or two years. That means 35,000 to 70,000 airmen will be asked if they were aware of incidents of sexual misconduct at the base while they were trainees.
Coughlin-Puopolo, who launched the petition with Protect our Defenders, an organization that aims to aid survivors of sexual assault in the military, was the whistle-blower in the 1991 Tailhook scandal during which 87 servicewomen, including Coughlin-Puopolo, were allegedly sexually assaulted at the Tailhook convention of naval aviators in Las Vegas.
Coughlin-Puopolo, who was serving as an admiral’s aide at the time of the assault, went public with her story in 1992, detailing her assault in interviews with the Washington Post and ABC News’ World News Tonight With Peter Jennings. Secretary of the Navy Lawrence Garrett was forced to resign over the handling of the investigations.
In June, Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., asked the House Armed Services committee to hold a hearing into the sexual misconduct investigations at Lackland. Last week, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, told the San Antonio Express News that it was “certainly appropriate” to conduct a hearing on the matter.
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