The Tailhook scandal was a United States military scandal that took place in 1991, but the implications of the event were so far-reaching that they continued to be felt in the U.S. military, especially in the Navy, into the 21st century. Numerous people's careers were destroyed as a result of the Tailhook scandal, and the incident carried a heavy stigma for years. The event also attracted widespread public attention because it highlighted gender issues in the U.S. Navy and Marines, and it raised questions about the efficacy of the U.S. military justice system.
Accusations of Harassment and Assault
The events of the Tailhook scandal took place at an annual symposium held by the Tailhook Association, an organization that promotes naval aviation; the name is a reference to the specialized hook on aircraft that is designed to grip the decks of aircraft carriers. After the symposium in Las Vegas, 83 women and seven men came forward with accusations of sexual harassment and assault, sparking an investigation into conduct at the conference.
The Pentagon's Inspector General and the Naval Investigative Service both looked into events at the Tailhook Conference, questioning more than 1,000 of the estimated 5,000 attendees and ultimately referring 140 to the Navy and Marines for further investigation and punishment. Seventy of the cases were dropped almost immediately, and the remainder of the offenders were lightly punished.
Ramifications of the Scandal
Many innocent attendees were caught up in the wake of the Tailhook scandal, however. People who had attended the 1991 conference found themselves unable to advance in military careers, and the scandal essentially acted as a taint on the names of all attendees, even if they were cleared. The failure to punish offenders more severely also attracted public attention and anger, especially from feminists, and it highlighted the gender issues faced by the Navy and Marines as more women have chosen to serve in those branches. In response, clearer sexual harassment policies were instituted, along with programs for anonymous reporting of sexual harassment and assault.
Ultimately, the Tailhook scandal ensnared the U.S. Senate, high-ranking officials from numerous government agencies and a huge number of ordinary members of the military. The Navy decided to sever its ties with the Tailhook Association in 1991 in response to the unfolding events, and it wasn't until 1999 that the Navy and the Tailhook Association mended their rift. Accusations of improper interrogation and evidence collection tactics abounded during the 1992 and 1993 investigations into the scandal, and the much of the alleged abuse at the conference has never been proved.