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Lackland fallout: Rape victim turned whistleblower calls for congressional hearings

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As the Lackland Air Force Base sex scandal continues to unfold, former Naval Lt. Paula Coughlin-Puopolo has filed a petition urging Congress to conduct its own formal investigation.

Coughlin-Puopolo was one of 87 sexual assault victims who came forward during the so-called *Tailhook scandal in 1992. She reported her story to senior officers to no avail before going public. Now over 20 years later, with at least 31 female Lackland trainees accusing a dozen military trainers of sexual misconduct, she says little has changed.

Coughlin-Puopolo's petition over at the Protect our Defenders website calls on U.S. Representative Buck McKeon (R-CA), chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, to hold a congressional hearing to open an “investigation immediately and then put an end to the ‘systemic issues’ of military rape and sexual assault by legislating fundamental reform.”

The petition asks:

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?

Though the investigation into the Tailhook scandal yielded few results in the 1990s, Protect our Defenders Communications Director Brian Purchia says the petition over the Lackland scandal offers a better set of solutions.

“More survivors coming [forward] than before is a critical part of getting things to change,” Purchia said.

On Monday, Staff Sgt. Luis Walker from Lackland Air Force Base, charged with rape and 10 counts of improper sexual contact, will stand trial at a court-martial proceeding. He faces a possible life sentence if convicted.

Purchia says that involving Congress and pushing for legislative action will spur a fundamental restructuring with the way sexual assault cases are handled within the military. Rep. McKeon was unavailable for comment prior to press deadline.

(*Originally reported as "Tailhook Naval Base.")

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