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What Was the Tailhook Scandal?

Mary McMahon
By
Updated: May 17, 2024

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.

Extensive Investigation

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.

America Explained is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a America Explained researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By abundancer — On Mar 03, 2011

I remember this as I was in the Air Force when it happened. I found it strange that the allegations were being made during a conference and not on board ships. Being in close quarters for extended periods of time makes it more probable.

Although I was not an attendee at the conference and do not know what went on, I do have to say as a past service member, that conferences like this are large arenas for the attendees to let loose and have fun.

The problem with it is that you are mixing high-ranking officials and the enlisted in a relaxed, party type of environment. This is fraternization and there are rules about this in the military to keep situations like this from happening.

By anon32732 — On May 26, 2009

what was the exact date of this scandal?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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