Protect Our Defenders and sexual assault survivor Paula Coughlin-Puopolo declared a major victory yesterday on Causes.com. They created a petition on Causes.com in July demanding House Armed Services Committee chairman, and Congressional representative from California, Buck McKeon schedule a public hearing regarding sexual assaults at Lackland Air Force Base. The petition was created on behalf of military sexual assault survivor Paula Coughlin-Puopolo. Yesterday, the LA Times reported that Rep. Buck McKeon announced a public and open hearing will be held “once Lackland sexual assaults prosecutions have concluded.” Although this could still take a few months, the news is the culmination of more than 10,000 signatures and more than 2600 of your tweets that were sent to Rep. McKeon through action tools on Causes. Protect Our Defender representative, and cause leader, Brian Purchia spoke to us through email and reflected on this moving victory.
Brian described the crux of the issue. He told us, “Congress must investigate, modernize the military code of justice and offer legislative solutions immediately. This is not just a crisis in the training commands — it’s throughout the armed forces and has been for decades. The epidemic of sexual assault in our military must be addressed systemically and this requires congressional hearings and legislation, so that Lackland does not become another Tailhook or Aberdeen.”Protect Our Defenders, a nonprofit that serves to honor and support military personnel who have been raped or sexually assaulted by fellow service members, was relentless about their commitment to making this public hearing a reality. Brian and POD are fighting to raise awareness around some startling statistics. He told us that according to the military’s own reports, there are 19,000 victims a year of mostly unpunished rape throughout the military. Yet only 13.5% come forward out of fear of retaliation and of those who come forward 80% would not do so again if given the chance. It’s that fear of retaliation that makes this public hearing announcement so powerful — the hearing could involve discussions about new procedures to ensure that victims feel safe when reporting sexual assaults.
Currently, there are 17 military officers accused of sexual assaults and the cases could extend for a long period, which means the public hearing will not come to fruition until later. California Congresswoman Jackie Speier believes there’s no need to wait. “I am pleased that Chairman [Buck] McKeon announced his intention to hold hearings and believe this is a step in the right direction. Rather than wait until the Air Force has completed its work, however, Armed Services Committee staff should immediately begin its research and investigation into the matter.”
This is a giant step forward for Brian’s cause and we’re excited to know the campaign tools on Causes played such a pivotal role. You can join Brian’s cause and follow future campaigns to protect sexual assault victims in the military. Weigh in on the topic by leaving a comment below.