My name is Paula Coughlin, and in 1991, I brought to light sexual assault that had become rampant in the military. When I first went public about my assault in 1991, during the Tailhook scandal, I never imagined that I would still be repeating the same calls for reform today. It was over two decades ago that I first spoke out about the culture of misogyny and impunity in our military. The crisis has only gotten worse. And, now a solution is within reach, if the Senate will bring the Military Justice Improvement Act (MJIA) to vote.
Protect Our Defenders hears daily from service members who have been dissuaded from reporting, retaliated against, and harassed by their peers and their chain of command. Victims are often put through a grueling and humiliating justice process. Their credibility and motives are impeached. Their privacy is violated. Their rapists' commander decides whether they will even have the possibility of justice.
Over 26,000 sexual crimes occurred in the military in 2012 alone. 92% of victims choose not to come forward. Of those few who do, 62% of women report retaliation. Over 50% of victims believe that nothing will be done. All of this is the direct result of structural failings of the military justice system.
The sexual assault epidemic persists because our military justice system is failing victims.
There is a solution – the Military Justice Improvement Act would start to bring justice to victims and survivors. It takes the prosecutorial function out of the hands of inherently biased and untrained commanders and puts it into the hands of professional military prosecutors.
But, Senator Claire McCaskill and Senator Kelly Ayotte have threatened to filibuster the Military Justice Improvement Act from even coming up for a vote.
Justice should not be filibustered.
Victims and their families deserve a vote. There is clear support for MJIA from veterans groups, the public, and a bipartisan majority of the Senate. However, a dogged few persist in denying justice to our troops. They will undoubtedly find themselves on the wrong side of history.
Now is the time. No more excuses. No more delays. Congress must act.
As a survivor who has waited more than twenty years for the military to live up to their promise of zero tolerance, I urge Congress to stand with us and ensure that our brave service members are afforded a justice system equal to the system afforded to the civilians they protect.
Bring the Military Justice Improvement Act to a vote with no delays.
- Paula Coughlin, Retired Lieutenant and Helicopter Pilot, U.S. Navy, Member, Board of Directors, Protect Our Defenders
Protect Our Defenders
This petition calls on Congress to fight for victims and survivors of military sexual assault who have been failed by a broken justice system.