A message from Tailhook whistleblower Paula Coughlin:
On June 13, 2014, President Obama signed an Executive Order, proposed by the Pentagon undermining essential “rape shield” protections for sexual assault victims in the military. This order severely weakens victims’ privacy rights, and delivers a huge blow to ongoing efforts by those who have been working tirelessly to reform the military justice system.
Without any explanation as to how these changes benefit the military justice system or protect the rights of victims, the order substantially weakens the protections of Military Rule of Evidence 412 (MRE 412), the military’s version of the “rape shield rule.” This rule protects victims from having their past sexual history and orientation introduced by defense to smear and humiliate them. By signing this order, the President has given a green light to defense counsels to introduce every possible detail of the victim’s history. Even if the evidence is ruled inadmissible, the convening authority—often the victims’ commander—will have a chance to review and consider this information when deciding whether or not to prosecute.
This change further biases the military justice system against victims, and deters them from pursing justice for fear that the personal details of their life will be exposed and used against them.
While the Pentagon continues to say they want to address the epidemic of sexual assault in the military, their actions speak much louder than words. They are doubling down on policies to intimidate and dissuade victims from coming forward.
Twenty-three years ago, I went public after I was sexually assaulted in a hallway full of drunken aviators at the 1991 Tailhook convention. After coming forward about my attack, I was viewed as a troublemaker and a liar. My character and credibility was dragged through the mud, and my military career was eventually ended as a result.
My story is the same as thousands of other victims that have come forward and reported their attacks. The culture and justice system of the military protect perpetrators and ultimately destroy the victims who dare to complain. According to the Pentagon’s own numbers 60% of victims who report state they were retaliated against.
Join me and call on President Obama to stand up for victims and rescind the portions of his Executive Order that undermine basic privacy protections for victims of sexual assault in the military.