Revisiting the Tailhook Sexual Assault Scandal

Thursday, May 16, 2013

In 1992, a young Navy lieutenant named Paula Coughlin stepped forward to make a startling allegation. She said she and many other women had been sexually assaulted at the Navy's annual Tailhook Symposium in Las Vegas. After Coughlin told her story others came out; in the end, 83 women and 7 men were found to have been assaulted in that Las Vegas hotel.

In the aftermath of Tailhook, Naval Secretary Sean O'Keefe promised to clamp down on sexual assault. "Sexual harassment will not be tolerated," he said,  "and those who don't get the message will be driven from our ranks." As a consequence of Tailhook, fourteen admirals and almost 300 naval aviators were demoted or disciplined in some way.  It appeared that Paula's story had shifted something fundamental in the military.

But more than 20 years later, the statistics on sexual assault in the military tell a different story.  The Pentagon estimates 26,000 members of the armed services were assaulted in 2012 -- even though only a fraction of those assaults were actually reported.

Karen Sughrue, contributing producer for Retro Report, looked back at Tailhook's influence in a new documentary for the online news organization.


Paula Coughlin and Karen Sughrue

Produced by:

Mythili Rao

Comments [1]


The fact that the now beloved Bill Clinton was the Commander in Chief following Tailhook makes for an interesting wrinkle in the history. Another example how righteous political indignation tends not to be a movable feast.

May. 16 2013 09:59 AM

Leave a Comment

Register for your own account so you can vote on comments, save your favorites, and more. Learn more.
Please stay on topic, be civil, and be brief.
Email addresses are never displayed, but they are required to confirm your comments. Names are displayed with all comments. We reserve the right to edit any comments posted on this site. Please read the Comment Guidelines before posting. By leaving a comment, you agree to New York Public Radio's Privacy Policy and Terms Of Use.