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Special Collection: Sexual Violence in the Military

The purpose of this collection is to:

  • Provide information on issues and concepts specific to sexual violence against military service members;
  • Define the term Military Sexual Trauma;
  • Inform on current policy, procedures, legislation, and litigation that may impact members of the military, veterans, and advocates;
  • Offer resources for service members, veterans, advocates, educators, and prevention practitioners; and
  • Share additional resources and organizations serving as partners, collaborators, advocates, or allies for service members and veterans impacted by sexual violence.

This collection is a companion piece to The Intersection of Domestic Violence and the Military: Working Across Disciplines published by the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence in June 2011. In an effort to focus on the topic of Military Sexual Trauma as a co-occurring issue, the resources listed here provide a detailed look at the issue of sexual violence in the military.

While information and resources shared here should provide pertinent and reliable information on the topic, this is by no means a complete collection of all resources available. These resources were compiled by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center to add to the body of knowledge for people affected by and working to end sexual violence. To recommend additional online resources for this collection please contact us.

US Armed Forces Chart

Table of Contents:

   

Defining the issue | Back to top

Recently, reports of sexual violence against women and men in the military have increased national attention to this issue. Sexual violence occurs when a person forces or manipulates another person into unwanted sexual activity without their consent (NSVRC, 2010). When this type of violence occurs within a military setting, whether in training, active duty, or at a military service academy, it can lead to a unique set of issues, concerns, and experiences.

Women and men who serve in the United States military live, work, train, learn, and socialize in tight-knit groups. The military operates under its own laws and policies, enforces its own rules and procedures, governs through a chain of command, and provides for the basic necessities of its members. The military setting promotes a strong sense of cohesion (Suris & Lind, 2008), one that operates much like a family unit.

Researchers have found that experiencing sexual assault or harassment from another military member can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and depression (Suris & Lind, 2008). In the past few years, the term Military Sexual Trauma (MST) has been used in a variety of ways to describe the traumatic experience of sexual violence committed by another service member. Unfortunately, no uniform definition of MST has been established (Suris & Lind, 2008).

The Department of Veterans’ Affairs (VA) defines MST as “psychological trauma, which in the judgment of a VA mental health professional, resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty or active duty for training" (U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2011). Other offices, organizations, and researchers identify an act of sexual violence as Military Sexual Trauma (Suris & Lind, 2008).

Too many definitions can pose problems in screening procedures and treatment. In one case, MST means the psychological response of the person experiencing a trauma; in another, it is the violent act of a perpetrator against a brother or sister service member. Additionally, some advocacy-based organizations challenge that using a term like Military Sexual Trauma fails to identify these violent actions as what they are: rape, sexual assault and harassment (SWAN, 2012).

The following resources offer some basic information on the prevalence of sexual violence committed by one service member against another. Additionally, some resources that briefly outline key issues related to the topic are included.

Understanding Prevalence

Due to the many different ways of screening for sexual assault or military sexual trauma, prevalence rates in published research vary widely (Suris & Lind, 2008). Similar to our understanding of prevalence in the civilian system, the DoD describes three different ways of gathering information. “Incidence” refers to the number of new cases of sexual assault and harassment over the course of a year. “Prevalence” describes the estimated number of lifetime experiences of sexual violence. “Reporting” statistics are limited to the number of people who make a report about this crime. According to the 2008 report of the Government Accountability Office (GAO) on the prevalence of sexual assault in the military, these rates are probably underestimated, as many service members who experience sexual violence never report it.  Much of the scholarly research, and many news reports focus specifically on women’s experiences of sexual violence in the military, but both men and women are affected by it (Cater & Leach, 2011). According to research conducted by Kimmerling, Gima, Smith, Street and Frayne (2007) roughly equal numbers of men and women in the VA system screened positive for MST.   

  • Prevalence of Intimate Partner Violence, Stalking, and Sexual Violence Among Active Duty Women and Wives of Active Duty Men - Comparisons with Women in the U.S. General Population, 2010 | PDF PDF (54 p.)
    by Michele C. Black and Melissa T. Merrick for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (March 2013)
    The findings in this technical report, based on 2010 NISVS data, reveal that overall, the prevalence of IPV, SV, and stalking were similar among women in the U.S. population, active duty women, and wives of active duty men.
    + View Summary
  • 2010 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members: Overview Report on Sexual Assault | PDF PDF (126 p.)
    by Lindsay M. Rock, Rachel N. Lipari, Paul J. Cook, and Andrew D. Hale for the Defense Manpower Data Center (March 2011)
    This report discusses the findings of a survey conducted across all military branches and the Coast Guard exploring instances and reactions to unwanted sexual contact. The purpose of this survey was to assess and evaluate efforts to prevent sexual assault within the military.
    + View Summary
  • Exclusive: 1 in 5 Air Force women victim of sexual assault, survey finds | HTML HTML (2 p.)
    by Anna Mulrine for The Christian Science Monitor (March 17, 2011)
    This news report discusses the prevalence of sexual assault among women serving in the air force, according to new survey results. According to the survey, a vast number of these assaults are committed by male airmen against female airmen, and these crimes are largely underreported.
    + View Summary
  • Military Rape: Rampant, Ignored | HTML HTML (1 p.)
    by Nan Levinson for the The Christian Science Monitor (May 18, 2011)
    This article discusses the experiences of two women who were assaulted while serving and their decision to file a lawsuit against Former Defense Secretaries for failing to adequately address sexual assault within the military.
    + View Summary
  • Rape in the Military | HTML HTML [11:47]
    by the National Organization for Women (NOW) for PBS: Public Broadcasting Service (2008)
    This documentary discusses women’s experiences of rape while they serve in the military. It includes interviews with veterans who are working through their healing and discusses personal challenges that they have faced.
    + View Summary
  • Rape, Sexual Assault, and Sexual Harassment in the Military: The Quick Facts | PDF PDF (2 p.)
    by Brittany L. Stalsburg for the Service Women’s Advocacy Network (SWAN) (July 2012)
    This brief fact sheet discusses the scope of sexual violence in the military, the impact that this violence has on men and women in uniform, and the cost of sexual violence. Additionally, the fact sheet includes some information on the services and advocacy provided by the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN).
    + View Summary
  • The Military’s Secret Shame | HTML HTML (4 p.)
    by Jesse Ellison for Newsweek Magazine (April 3, 2011)
    An article discussing the prevalence of male soldiers assaulted while serving in the military, it discusses the increasing number of soldiers testing positive for Military Sexual Trauma and the rising number of reports in light of recent survey findings and other considerations.
    + View Summary
  • Unseen foe for troops: sexual assault in US military | PDF PDF (2 p.)
    by Anna Mulrine for the Christian Science Monitor (April 29, 2011)
    This article discusses the experiences of several women who were sexually assaulted while serving overseas. These women’s experiences highlight the shortcomings of military SARC’s (Sexual Assault Response Coordinators) and policy issues that discourage reporting and decrease support.
    + View Summary
Identifying key issues for advocacy

The resources listed in this section offer an overview of topics that have surfaced on sexual violence in the military. Sexual harassment can create a hostile working and living environment. Traditionally a male-dominated profession, the military system established for training, working, and living has not fully integrated women or their needs. Finally, the stories of men and women who lived through and are healing from this violence offer a closer look at the issue.

  • Sexual Violence in the Military: A Guide for Civilian Advocates | PDF PDF (9 p.)
    by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (July 2013)
    This guide focuses on the impact of sexual violence in the military. It includes resources for advocates who, through relationships and collaborations with the military, can offer support in responding to the needs of survivors and preventing sexual violence.
    + View Summary
  • A Case for Federal Oversight of Military Sexual Harassment | PDF PDF (9 p.)
    by Rachel Natelson, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law for the Clearinghouse Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy (September/October 2009)
    This scholarly article discusses the prevalence of sexual harassment within the military and the lack of protection under Title VII. According to the article, 70-90% of female veterans reports the experience of sexual harassment, but often have no redress for their offender’s words and actions.
    + View Summary
  • Eldridge & Co.: Anuradha Bhagwati, Executive Director of SWAN (Service Women’s Action Network) | HTML HTML [28:11]
    by Eldridge & Co. (June 2010)
    A television interview with the Executive Director of SWAN discusses the challenges faced by women serving in the military and women veterans who try to access benefits and services. Women in the military face sexual harassment, sexual assault, and a system that fails to address these issues adequately.
    + View Summary
  • House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs “The Growing Needs of Women Veterans” | PDF PDF (2 p.)
    by Anuradha Bhaguati for the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) (May 20, 2009)
    This document provides the written version of testimony provided by the Executive Director of SWAN regarding the needs of women veterans in the VA system.
    + View Summary
  • Military Sexual Trauma: Stories from Survivors | HTML HTML (3 p.)
    by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (April 10, 2010)
    This article shares the personal stories of two people who experienced sexual assault while serving in the military and their stories of healing within the VA system.
    + View Summary

Sexual violence in the military | Back to top

There have been many reports on the extent of sexual violence within military settings (see sections: Prevalence and Evaluation and Oversight). The problem is extensive and the impact is unavoidable. In 2004, a task force report on care for victims of sexual assault within the Department of Defense made recommendations for systematic changes to improve response to people who experience sexual violence (DoD Care for Victims of Sexual Assault Task Force Report, 2004).

Those recommendations included developing a central point of accountability and a unified response system.  Additionally, the legal requirement to participate in the military justice system was found to be a major deterrent for service members to report crimes of sexual violence.  To report a crime meant that a service member’s commander would be notified, initiating a formal investigation.  Since that report, the DoD has made many changes and federal legislation has passed to help ensure proper care for victims.  Recommendations from this task force led to new policy and the establishment of the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) in the Pentagon, which provides oversight on all sexual assault prevention and response activities (Whitley, 2009). The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) also incorporated major system changes to help provide treatment and benefits for those veterans who seek assistance with a history of military sexual trauma.

Military life and the experience of sexual violence pose unique challenges. Men and women who experience sexual assault or harassment often live and work with the person who committed this violence. If the perpetrator supervises or outranks the victim, they may make threats against the person’s career or shut out options for help and support. Service members do not have the option of leaving a job because of a hostile working environment, and could face charges for not following orders. Unit cohesion can make breaking that bond through reporting violence difficult, painful, and even threatening for a victim (Cater & Leach, 2011; Suris and Lind, 2008).

Some suggest that the culture of the military must change to prevent sexual assaults in the first place (Callahan, 2009). Natelson (2009) reports that sexual harassment is a common occurrence; additionally, unit cohesion can lead to pressures against reporting acts of violence (Natelson, 2009; Suris & Lind 2008). While many changes have been made, some contend that the DoD has not done enough to prevent and respond to sexual violence (Bhagwati, 2010). The sections below provide information on the extent of sexual violence within both the armed forces and military service academies. Additionally, there is a section on the experience, symptoms, and treatment for what the DoD has termed Military Sexual Trauma (MST).

Sexual violence in the Armed Forces

The following resources address sexual violence within the branches of the U.S. Armed Forces, including the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard.  They may describe sexual violence that occurred during active duty or training for active duty. 

  • Sexual Violence in the Military: Infographic | PDF PDF (2 p.)
    by the National Sexual Violence Resource Center (July 2013)
    This infographic provides a visual snapshot of the prevalence of sexual violence in the military based on data from a variety of sources dated 2010-2013.
    + View Summary
  • Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military | PDF PDF - Volume 1 (729 p.) | PDF PDF - Volume 2 (765 p.)
    by Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPRO) for the Department of Defense (May 2013)
    The annual reports on sexual harassment and violence at the three U.S. Military Service Academies provide data on reported sexual assaults involving cadets and/or midshipmen, as well as policies, procedures and processes implemented in response to sexual harassment and violence during the Academic Program Year.
    + View Summary
  • Factors Associated with Women’s Risk of Rape in the Military Environment | PDF PDF (12 p.)
    by Anne G. Sadler, Brenda M. Booth, Brian L. Cook, and Bradley N. Doebbeling for the American Journal of Industrial Medicine (2003)
    This research article discusses the outcomes of a survey of 558 women enrolled in the national VA healthcare registry. Twenty eight percent of participants reported experiencing rape. The authors found that certain environmental factors increased the likelihood of rape, including sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances on duty.
    + View Summary
  • Rape, Sexual Assault, and Sexual Harassment in the Military: The Quick Facts | PDF PDF (2 p.)
    by Service Women’s Advocacy Network (SWAN) (July 2012)
    This brief fact sheet discusses the scope of sexual violence in the military, the impact that this violence has on men and women in uniform, and the cost of sexual violence. Additionally, the fact sheet includes some information on the services and advocacy provided by the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN).
    + View Summary
  • Separate, Unequal, and Unrecognized | PDF PDF (1 p.)
    by Rachel Natelson for The Huffington Post (August 4, 2010)
    This article describes the obstacles that female service members and veterans are faced with during deployment and when trying to reintegrate to their home communities.
    + View Summary
  • Sexual Harassment and Assault as Predictors of PTSD Symptomatology Among U.S. Female Persian Gulf War Military Personnel | PDF PDF (19 p.)
    by Jessica Wolfe, Erica J. Sharkansky, Jennifer P. Read, Ree Dawson, James A. Martin, and Paige Crosby Ouimette for the Journal of Interpersonal Violence (1998)
    The authors of this article conducted research with women from a wartime military sample to assess exposure to sexual assault and harassment and how these experiences related to the experience of post traumatic stress disorder symptoms.
    + View Summary
  • The Military’s Secret Shame | PDF PDF (4 p.)
    by Jesse Ellison for Newsweek Magazine (April 3, 2011)
    An article discussing the prevalence of male soldiers assaulted while serving in the military, it discusses the increasing number of soldiers testing positive for Military Sexual Trauma and the rising number of reports in light of recent survey findings and other considerations.
    + View Summary
  • Voices From the Field | HTML HTML [2:44]
    by Service Women’s Action Network/Ms. Foundation for Women (April 2011)
    This video provides testimony from a family member of a woman who had been raped while serving in the Marine Corps. It discusses the impact of this traumatic experience, the poor response by the military, and the help provided by SWAN.
    + View Summary
Military Service Academies

Military Service Academies are considered the training grounds for future military leaders. Reforms within these institutions are considered to be a positive step toward changing the climate and culture of the military in general (Callahan, 2009). These resources include research reports on the prevalence of sexual violence within Military Service Academies and reports on efforts to include prevention and response.

  • 2012 Service Academy Gender Relations Survey | PDF PDF (446 p.)
    by Paul J. Cook and Lindsay Rock for Defense Manpower Data Center (2012)
    The 2012 SAGR is the fifth in a series of surveys mandated by U.S. Code Title 10, as amended by Section 532 of the John Warner National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 (10USC§4361). This survey assesses the incidence of sexual assault and sexual harassment and gender-related issues at the U.S. Military Academy (USMA), the U.S. Naval Academy (USNA), the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAFA), and the U.S. Coast Guard Academy (USCGA).
    + View Summary
  • Report of the Defense Task Force on Sexual Harassment & Violence at the Military Service Academies | PDF PDF (96 p.)
    by the United States Department of Defense (June 2005)
    This report reflects the assessment of sexual assault and harassment in Military Service Academies. The findings of the report led to recommendations for changes in education, training, inclusion of women, offender accountability, resources for victims, and prevention at each institution.
    + View Summary
  • Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies: Academic Program Year 2011-2012 | PDF PDF (170 p.)
    by the Sexual Assault Prevention And Response Office of the Department of Defense (December 2012)
    To help address the crime of sexual assault within the Military, the Department of Defense and various Service branches conduct comprehensive annual sexual assault assessments and issue reports. The data provided in the reports serves as the foundation and catalyst for future sexual assault prevention, training, victim care and accountability goals.
    + View Summary
  • Military Academies: Rape, Sexual Assault, And Sexual Harassment | PDF PDF (9 p.)
    by Brittany L. Stalsburg for the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) (February 2011)
    This document is an analysis based on the Department of Defense's Annual Report on Sexual Harassment and Violence at the Military Service Academies as well as two surveys commissioned by the Department of Defense that examine "gender relations" in U.S. military academies.
    + View Summary
Military sexual trauma

Also known as MST, Military Sexual Trauma is the term used by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to describe experiences of sexual harassment and sexual assault committed by one service member against another. The resources in this section describe MST, symptoms and experiences associated with it, and practices and programs to address it.

  • In Their Boots: Angie’s Story | HTML HTML [15:22]
    by Brave New Foundation (2011)
    This documentary shares the experience of Sergeant Angela Peacock as she works through sexual assault, combat stress, and the trauma symptoms that followed.
    + View Summary
  • House Committee on Veterans Affairs Joint Hearing with Subcommittee on Health on Healing the Wounds: Evaluating Military Sexual Trauma Issues | PDF PDF ( p.)
    by Anuradha Bhaguati for the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) (May 20, 2010)
    This document provides the written version of testimony provided by the Executive Director of SWAN regarding the issue of Military Sexual Trauma and the experiences of individuals working through this trauma within the defense system.
    + View Summary
  • Military Sexual Trauma: A Little Known Veteran Issue | HTML HTML
    by National Public Radio (May 13, 2010)
    This radio interview discusses the military sexual trauma and related challenges face by a veteran who experienced sexual harassment while serving in the military. Rachel Cesar shares her story, and discusses homelessness, the pursuit of help and healing, and issues faced by women veterans specifically.
    + View Summary
  • Military Sexual Trauma (MST): The Quick Facts | PDF PDF ( p.)
    by Brittany L. Stallsburg for the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN)
    This 2-page fact sheet includes information about the incidence of MST, its emotional and financial costs and other valuable information highlighting the devastating effects of this problem.
    + View Summary
  • Military Sexual Trauma Web Portal | HTML HTML
    by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2011)
    This web portal provides an overview of Military Sexual Trauma, information on VA programs and services, links to additional resources, and fact sheets that discuss the topic. Based on the information provided, the VA has incorporated universal screening practices for military sexual trauma in an effort to address the needs of veterans.
    + View Summary
  • Military Sexual Trauma | PDF PDF ( p.)
    by Catherine McCall for Gift From Within
    This article provides information on the definition and prevalence of military sexual trauma. It discusses some of the unique factors that pose challenges to military service members and challenges in supporting a loved one who faces military sexual trauma.
    + View Summary
  • VetWow’s MST Resources Channel | HTML HTML
    by VetWow
    This channel offers several videos and podcasts discusses issues related to military sexual trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and what it is like to experience sexual violence while serving in the military.
    + View Summary
  • VHA Directive: Military Sexual Trauma (MST) Programming | PDF PDF (6 p.)
    by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (July 14, 2010)
    This directive advices VA facilities on the appropriate programming and requirements for addressing MST. Of note is the directive for universal screening practices and free care for MST-related services for all veterans.
    + View Summary
  • Women Veterans Health Care: Military Sexual Trauma | HTML HTML
    by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2010)
    This resource page provides some basic information on what the Department of Veterans Affairs refers to as Military Sexual Trauma (MST), including unwanted sexual attention, uninvited sexual advances, and forced sexual contact.
    + View Summary

Evaluations and oversight | Back to top

One benefit of military programming is the consistent commitment to evaluation and oversight. In this section reports provided to the DoD or based on research findings highlight changes needed and progress made toward specific goals. Notably, the Task Force Report on Care for Victims of Sexual Assault (2004) provided the foundation for the current stream of centralized programming and oversight through the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) in the DoD. The task force report outlined 35 recommendations for changes and improvements to the military system of response to sexual assault and prevention practices.

The recommendations from the 2004 task force suggested that a consistent effort across military branches would help to create a unified response and easily incorporated prevention practices (DoD, 2004). As a result, SAPRO was developed with the sole responsibility of coordinating all policy related to sexual assault. Additionally, the task force identified reporting as an area of major concern. According to a statement by Dr. Kaye Whitley of SAPRO, DoD data indicated that crimes of sexual violence were vastly underreported. Reasons that service members chose not to report sexual assault included fear of not being believed, of stigma, of retaliation, or that the justice system would fail them (Whitley, 2009).

Many systematic changes developed from these evaluations. For instance, the DoD incorporated a new reporting option, known as “Restricted Reporting,” to allow for service members who’ve experienced sexual assault to seek medical or psychological care without initiating an official investigation. Previously, a service member could not seek help without involving command or engaging in the legal process. Evaluation and oversight also led the Department of Veterans’ Affairs to implement universal screening for sexual violence in healthcare settings. (For more information on reporting options and other interventions, see the Intervention and Response section.)

  • A Case for Federal Oversight of Military Sexual Harassment | PDF PDF (9 p.)
    by Rachel Natelson, Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law for the Clearinghouse Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy (September/October 2009)
    This scholarly article discusses the prevalence of sexual harassment within the military and the lack of protection under Title VII. According to the article, 70-90% of female veterans reports the experience of sexual harassment, but often have no redress for their offender’s words and actions.
    + View Summary
  • Military Justice: Oversight and Better Collaboration Needed for Sexual Assault Investigations and Adjudications | PDF PDF (42 p.)
    by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (June 2011)
    This report to the Subcommittee on Military Personnel, Committee on Armed Services of the House of Representatives outlines needed structural changes to the process of investigating and carrying out legal proceedings for sexual assault cases.
    + View Summary
  • Preliminary Observations on DOD’s and the Coast Guard’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Programs | PDF PDF (25 p.)
    by Brenda S. Farrell for the United States Government Accountability Office (July 31, 2008)
    In this preliminary report, the GAO cited numerous concerns over the knowledge and oversight of sexual assaults that occur within the military and made recommendations for program improvement.
    + View Summary
  • Statement of Dr. Kaye Whitley in the Hearing on Sexual Assault in the Military: Victim Care and Advocacy | PDF PDF (17 p.)
    by Kaye Whitley (January 28, 2009)
    The statement includes of history of SAPRO, efforts to address sexual assault within the military, and explanations of reporting procedures and care for service members who face sexual assault.
    + View Summary
  • Task Force Report on Care for Victims of Sexual Assault | PDF PDF ( p.)
    by the United States Department of Defense (April 2004)
    This is a summary of the findings from a 90 day review of sexual assault policies and programs among the military services and the Department of Defense, and the recommendations for change to better serve victims and increase prevention efforts.
    + View Summary
  • VA Health Care: Actions Needed to Prevent Sexual Assaults and Other Safety Incidents | PDF PDF (78 p.)
    by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) (June 2011)
    This report evaluates and outlines actions needed for improvement in prevention sexual violence and other safety concerns within VA healthcare settings.
    + View Summary

Policy, legislation, and litigation | Back to top

The military system is controlled through government legislation and policy. Current policy in the DoD is governed by the following two documents:

  1. DoD Directive 6495.01, The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program.
  2. DoD Instruction 6595.02, Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program Procedures.

Laws passed by Congress influence proceedings, benefits, and accessibility of services for service members and veterans. Resources in this section discuss various policy issues, legislation that impacts military survivors, and litigation that presses for system-wide reform. Law and policy directly impact service members who experience sexual violence because these factors can create an unsafe environment for reporting (Turchik & Wilson, 2008). These factors also influence access to disability benefits in the VA system.  Due to policy changes, the Veterans Health Administration must screen all veterans for military sexual trauma (Department of Veterans Affairs, 2005) and provide free medical and mental health care for anyone that claims they experienced MST.

Turchik and Wilson (2008) discussed the challenges that survivors face when military law perpetuates rape myths. Legislation that only recognizes that women can be sexually assaulted reinforces the myth that men cannot experience sexual violence. See the excerpt from Turchik and Wilson (2008) below, which discusses legally imposed limitations:

“Also, the Article 120 rape law still excludes the possibility of male victims of rape, although male rape can be punished under other sexual assault laws in this article. Articles 120 and 125 also allow for the fact that two people are married to be an affirmative defense for several of the sexual assault crimes and this defense should be eliminated to prevent and legitimize marital sexual assault.”

Until recently, the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy likely deterred men and women who identified as LGBTQ from making an unrestricted report of sexual assault. These men and women may have been concerned that doing so would disclose personal information that could result in discharge. Turchik and Wilson (2008) also contended that perpetrators could also use the threat of “outing,” whether true or not, to keep the person from disclosing sexual violence. 

In 2011, Burke, LLC filed a lawsuit on behalf of women and men who experienced sexual assault while serving in the military, challenging that the current and former Secretaries of Defense "failed to prevent Plaintiffs and others from being raped and sexually assaulted" (Burke, LLC).  Despite the many reports and changes regarding sexual assault response and policy, more change and action is needed.

  • Ex-city woman joins suit vs. military, says she was raped | HTML HTML (2 p.)
    by Mike LaBella (April 14, 2011)
    This news report discusses one servicewoman’s experience of sexual assault while serving overseas and her decision to join a class action lawsuit against the government for failing to protect women and men who experience sexual assault in the military.
    + View Summary
  • House Refuses to Vote on Abortion Coverage for Military Rape Victims | HTML HTML (1 p.)
    by Laura Bassett for the Huffington Post (May 25, 2011)
    This article discusses actions by the House Committee on Rules to block a vote and debate on changing legislation that prevents service women who experience pregnancy as a result of rape to receive a federally funded abortion. This option is available to civilian women who experience rape, abuse, or incest.
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  • Lawmakers propose new protections for military sexual assault victims | HTML HTML (2 p.)
    by Leo Shane III for Stars and Stripes (April 13, 2011)
    This article discusses the proposed legislation sponsored by Representatives Mike Turner, R-Ohio, and Niki Tsongas, D-Massachusetts. This legislation would provide for the rights and privileges of military personnel impacted by sexual violence while serving, including rights to confidentiality, services, and legal access.
    + View Summary
  • Military Rape Litigation | PDF PDF (42 p.)
    by Burke, PLLC (February 15, 2011)
    This legal document outlines the complaint made against the United States government representatives by service members who had experienced sexual assault while serving. Based on the notion that the Secretary of Defense has a responsibility to protect its members from sexual harm caused by other members, it seeks reparations for damages imposed by this violence.
    + View Summary

Prevention | Back to top

Stopping sexual violence before it happens is the primary goal of the anti-sexual violence movement and a major undertaking for the U.S. Military. This section begins with some resources that discuss primary prevention of sexual violence. Stopping sexual violence from happening in a military setting involves change on many different levels. It means creating a space where sexual assault, sexual harassment, and gender discrimination will not be tolerated. Researchers have discussed the factors that increase the risk of experiencing sexual assault for service members, including work and living conditions, leadership attitudes, and drug or alcohol use (Sadler, Booth, Cook, & Doebelling, 2003). Efforts that seek to change patterns of behavior and systems that condone violence may prevent sexual harassment and sexual assault. The second section provides examples of programs and actions that military installations have taken to prevent sexual assault and recommendations for how to accomplish this goal within the VA Health System. The final section offers sample campaign materials used within military settings to educate service members and motivate them to prevent sexual assaults against others. These changes reflect attempts to change the culture and climate of a system by addressing some of the root causes of sexual violence.

Primary prevention basics
  • Factors Associated with Women’s Risk of Rape in the Military Environment | PDF PDF (12 p.)
    by Anne G. Sadler, Brenda M. Booth, Brian L. Cook, and Bradley N. Doebbeling (2003)
    A research article that discusses findings of a survey of 558 women enrolled in the national VA healthcare registry. Twenty eight percent (n=151) of participants reported experiencing rape. The authors found that certain environmental factors increased the likelihood of rape, including sexual harassment and unwanted sexual advances on duty.
    + View Summary
  • Principles of Prevention | HTML HTML
    by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Injury Prevention and Control (February 2011)
    This online course teaches key concepts of primary prevention, the public health approach, and the social-ecological model.
    + View Summary
  • Sexual Violence Prevention: Beginning the Dialogue | PDF PDF (16 p.)
    by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2004)
    This resource discusses sexual violence as a serious public health problem with extensive short- and long-term health consequences. It identifies concepts and strategies that may be used as a foundation for planning, implementing, and evaluating sexual violence prevention activities.
    + View Summary
  • Sexual Violence and the Spectrum of Prevention: Towards a Community Solution | PDF PDF (20 p.)
    by Rachel Davis, Lisa Fujie Parks, Larry Cohen for the Prevention Institute (2006)
    This NSVRC publication provides advocates, practitioners and educators with a guide for developing a comprehensive community approach to the primary prevention of sexual violence.
    + View Summary
Military actions
  • Air force officials focus on sexual assault prevention | HTML HTML (2 p.)
    by Lt. Col. Ann Stefanek for the U.S. Air Force (March 17, 2011)
    This news story written by the Air Force Secretary of Public Affairs discusses the plan to review strategies to prevent sexual assault in the Air Force, based on guidance from the military’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Team. This action follows the release of survey findings on the scope of the problem of sexual assault in the military.
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  • Eighth Army forms sexual assault prevention task force | HTML HTML (1 p.)
    by Capt. Jay Taylor for the US Army (May 3, 2011)
    This article discusses efforts of the Eighth Army, positioned on the Korean Peninsula, to prevent sexual assault. The leader of the task force discusses the importance of this issue to the army, and that sexual violence stands in opposition to Army values and the “Warrior Ethos.”
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  • VA Health Care: Actions Needed to Prevent Sexual Assaults and Other Safety Incidents | PDF PDF (78 p.)
    by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) (June 2011)
    This report evaluates and outlines actions needed for improvement in prevention sexual violence and other safety concerns within VA healthcare settings.
    + View Summary
Campaigns and training materials

  • Band of Brothers and Sisters | HTML HTML
    by the Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program of the US Army
    This video developed as part of the U.S. Army’s "I. A.M. Strong" campaign discusses the personal experiences of service members who speak about sexual assault and the cultural elements that break down the system of safety and support within the army. 
    + View Summary
  • Facilitator’s Guide: Our Strength Is for Defending | PDF PDF (4 p.)
    by the Department of Defense (2009)
    This guide is meant to aid Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARC’s) and Victim Advocates (VA’s) in leading conversations on the topic of prevention sexual violence through a social media campaign. The goal of the campaign is to educate service members on the duty to intervene and protect one another.
    + View Summary
  • Facilitator’s Guide: I got her out of there | PDF PDF (6 p.)
    by the Department of Defense (2009)
    This guide is meant to aid SARCs and VA’s in leading conversations about bystander intervention and response to victims of sexual assault. This poster and discussion promote taking action by identifying red flags or problematic behavior and intervening before someone sexually assaults another service member.
    + View Summary
  • Facilitator’s Guide: Let’s Call the SARC | PDF PDF (8 p.)
    by the Department of Defense (2009)
    This guide lists discussion topics and responses for facilitators educating service members on bystander intervention strategies and appropriate responses to disclosures of sexual violence. The guide offers training tools for various posters used in a Sexual Assault Awareness Month social marketing campaign.
    + View Summary

Intervention and response | Back to top

The ongoing changes in the U.S. military’s response to sexual assault grew out of the recommendations made by the 2004 Task Force on Care for Victims of Sexual Assault. Based on the findings shared in that report, service members who experienced sexual assault were not always receiving care and were not reporting the crime. The DoD enacted policy in 2005 to improve access to care and advocacy services and crime reporting.

Other systematic changes included an additional reporting option for victims of sexual violence. Previously, service members who disclosed a sexual assault when receiving medical treatment or counseling services could not do so confidentially. Military healthcare providers were required to report the crime to law enforcement. Victims of sexual assault were also expected to participate in the investigation and prosecution of the alleged perpetrator. Out of fear of repercussions, a sense of unit cohesion, or a distrust of the military legal system, the 2004 task force found that victims were not making reports and not seeking immediate care (DoD, 2004). With the addition of "Restricted Reporting," service members can now seek out care and support without initiating a full investigation or notifying their command of the assault. "Unrestricted Reporting" involves making a report that also initiates an investigation.  Both restricted and unrestricted reports have benefits and limitations. See the chart below for more information.

Reporting Type: Benefits Limitations
Restricted
  • Can seek medical care, advocacy, and counseling
  • Allows for space and time to make choices
  • Can begin the healing process
  • Can learn more about criminal investigation process
  • Can make a more informed decision
  • Can control release of personal information
  • Can decide not to initiate an official investigation
  • May have continued contact with offender
  • Cannot apply for a military protective order
  • Offender remains unpunished
  • Evidence for an investigation may be lost
  • Switching to an unrestricted report later may pose obstacles to the investigation
  • Only chaplains, designated healthcare personnel, victim advocates, and SARCs* can discuss your experience with you without obligation to report it
Unrestricted
  • Can seek medical care, advocacy, and counseling
  • Can initiate a criminal investigation
  • Can file for a military protective order
  • Can invoke the collateral misconduct provision**
  • May hold offender accountable, preventing future assaults
  • May preserve evidence from a crime scene
  • Investigation process can be long and difficult
  • May lead to negative responses from peers and command
  • Loss of control over personal information
  • Investigations may interfere with the healing process
  • The offender may not be held accountable
  • Victims may experience some form of professional, social or administrative retaliation, including discharge (DMDC, 2010)

* SARC stands for Sexual Assault Response Coordinator
** The Collateral Misconduct Provision of the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Policy advises commanders to prioritize misconduct response based on the seriousness of the offenses in question. For instance, a person who was sexual assaulted while drinking underage should not avoid making a report due to fear of repercussions for their misconduct (underage drinking) (DoD, 2005).

The resources in this section pertain to elements of intervention and response that may be useful for advocates and for victims. The first section provides information on screening practices and symptoms associated with sexual trauma and PTSD. The next section offers resources on responding to and reporting sexual violence within the military system. The final two sections contain resources specifically useful for service members who experienced sexual violence and the advocates who serve them.

Screening
  • Men and Sexual Trauma | HTML HTML
    by the National Center for PTSD of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (Updated 2010)
    This page provides information on the unique experiences of men who face sexual violence. It discusses some common differences in men’s experiences based on societal expectation and gender roles, which can dictate responses and reactions to disclosures of sexual violence.
    + View Summary
  • VHA Directive: Military Sexual Trauma (MST) Programming | HTML HTML (6 p.)
    by the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (July 14, 2010)
    This directive advices VA facilities on the appropriate programming and requirements for addressing MST. Of note is the directive for universal screening practices and free care for MST-related services for all veterans.
    + View Summary
  • Women Veterans Health Care: Military Sexual Trauma | HTML HTML
    by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2010)
    This resource page provides some basic information on what the Department of Veterans Affairs refers to as Military Sexual Trauma (MST), including unwanted sexual attention, uninvited sexual advances, and forced sexual contact.
    + View Summary
Responding and reporting
  • House Committee on Veterans’ Affairs “The Growing Needs of Women Veterans” | PDF PDF (2 p.)
    by Anuradha Bhaguati for the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN) (May 20, 2009)
    This document provides the written version of testimony provided by the Executive Director of SWAN regarding the needs of women veterans in the VA system.
    + View Summary
  • Reporting Option | HTML HTML (4 p.)
    by Military Rape Crisis Center (2011)
    This page provides an overview of reporting options for active duty military personnel serving stateside and on shore. It discusses both Restricted and Unrestricted reporting and the benefits and limitations of each option. The Military Rape Crisis Center provides advocacy and counseling to those wishing to discuss reporting options.
    + View Summary
  • Strengthening Military-Civilian Community Partnerships to Respond to Sexual Assault | HTML HTML
    by Hallie Martyniuk, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape for the US Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (2008)
    This curriculum was developed with the intention of educating community based sexual assault service providers on how they can establish a collaborative, working relationship with military installations at the local level.
    + View Summary
  • Summary: DoD Sexual Assault Policy | PDF PDF (3 p.)
    by the US Department of Defense (2005)
    This brief summary provides an overview of a memorandum sent to the DoD sexual assault policy. It includes information on duties and responsibilities, defining sex-related offenses, and various applicable policies.
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Resources for victims

DoD Safe Helpline: Victims of sexual violence in the DoD Community may click, call or text for anonymous assistance. The Online Helpline provides live one-on-one help, 24/7. DoD Safe Helpline is operated by RAINN, a civilian anti-sexual violence organization. Victims who prefer to get help by phone can call 877-995-5247 to speak with Safe Helpline staff for personalized support. Safe Helpline staff can also transfer callers to an installation or base Sexual Assault Response Coordinators (SARCs), civilian rape crisis centers or the Suicide Prevention Lifeline. Victims who prefer to find out the resources in their local area can text their zip code or installation or base name to 55-247 (inside the U.S.) or 202-470-5546 (outside the U.S.) and receive contact information for the SARC on that installation or base.

  • Men and Sexual Trauma | PDF PDF ( p.)
    by the National Center for PTSD of the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (Updated 2010)
    This page provides information on the unique experiences of men who face sexual violence. It discusses some common differences in men’s experiences based on societal expectation and gender roles, which can dictate responses and reactions to disclosures of sexual violence.
    + View Summary
  • PTSD Coach | HTML HTML
    by National Center for PTSD of the US Department of Veterans Affairs
    This mobile application, a software program designed to educate and self-assess for PTSD symptoms. It also offers portable skills for addressing acute symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
    + View Summary
  • Reporting Option | HTML HTML (4 p.)
    by Military Rape Crisis Center (2011)
    This page provides an overview of reporting options for active duty military personnel serving stateside and on shore. It discusses both Restricted and Unrestricted reporting and the benefits and limitations of each option. The Military Rape Crisis Center provides advocacy and counseling to those wishing to discuss reporting options.
    + View Summary
  • Sexual Assault Against Females | HTML HTML (4 p.)
    by the National Center for PTSD of the US Department of Veterans Affairs (Updated 2010)
    This resource page discusses information specific to adult women who have experienced sexual assault. It provides information on prevalence, common responses, and where a person can seek help.
    + View Summary
  • Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) Program Overview | PDF PDF (2 p.)
    by the US Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (2010)
    This brochure provides an overview of the programming conducted by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), including sexual assault awareness training, Active Bystander Training, victim support services, and program oversight.
    + View Summary
  • SWAN Brochure | PDF PDF ( p.)
    by the Service Women’s Action Network
    This brochure provides an overview of initiatives and services that SWAN provides to service women. It includes policy, information, and Helplines for peer support.
    + View Summary
  • Victims’ Rights in Action Brochure | PDF PDF (2 p.)
    by the U.S. Department of Defense
    This brochure shares the bill of rights for victims in action used by DoD law enforcement and legal personnel to inform and provide reasonable services and accommodations for military victims of crime. The brochure also lists and explains important forms used in the legal process for victims.
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  • VA Military Sexual Trauma Brochure | PDF PDF (2 p.)
    by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2010)
    This brochure provides basic information related to military sexual trauma and eligibility to apply for benefits.
    + View Summary
  • VetWow’s MST Resources Channel | HTML HTML
    by VetWow
    This channel offers several videos and podcasts discusses issues related to military sexual trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and what it is like to experience sexual violence while serving in the military.
    + View Summary
  • Women, Trauma and PTSD | HTML HTML (2 p.)
    by the National Center for PTSD of the US Department of Veterans Affairs (Updated 2010)
    This page discusses basic information about women’s experience of trauma and the prevalence of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) as a result of that trauma.
    + View Summary
Resources for advocates
  • PTSD Coach | HTML HTML
    by National Center for PTSD of the US Department of Veterans Affairs
    This mobile application, a software program designed to educate and self-assess for PTSD symptoms. It also offers portable skills for addressing acute symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
    + View Summary
  • Reporting Option | HTML HTML (4 p.)
    by Military Rape Crisis Center (2011)
    This page provides an overview of reporting options for active duty military personnel serving stateside and on shore. It discusses both Restricted and Unrestricted reporting and the benefits and limitations of each option. The Military Rape Crisis Center provides advocacy and counseling to those wishing to discuss reporting options.
    + View Summary
  • SWAN Speakers Bureau | HTML HTML
    by the Service Women’s Action Network
    This page shares information on how to request a speaker to serve on a panel, provide a presentation, or other speaking engagement on issues specific to service women.
    + View Summary
  • Strengthening Military-Civilian Community Partnerships to Respond to Sexual Assault | HTML HTML
    by Hallie Martyniuk, Pennsylvania Coalition Against Rape and the DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (2008)
    This curriculum was developed with the intention of educating community based sexual assault service providers on how they can establish a collaborative, working relationship with military installations at the local level.
    + View Summary
  • VA Military Sexual Trauma Brochure | PDF PDF (2 p.)
    by U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2010)
    This brochure provides basic information related to military sexual trauma and eligibility to apply for benefits.
    + View Summary
  • VetWow’s MST Resources Channel | HTML HTML
    by VetWow
    This channel offers several videos and podcasts discusses issues related to military sexual trauma, post-traumatic stress disorder, and what it is like to experience sexual violence while serving in the military.
    + View Summary

Additional resources | Back to top

Army OneSource Victim Advocacy Program: This program provides comprehensive assistance and support to victims of domestic abuse and sexual assault, including crisis intervention, safety planning, assistance in securing medical treatment for injuries, information on legal rights and proceedings, and referral to military and civilian shelters and other resources available to victims. Victim Advocacy services are available 24 hours a day/7 days a week to Soldiers and Family members.

Disabled American Veterans: This nonprofit organization advocates for and supports disabled veterans in accessing benefits within the Department of Veterans Affairs and the Department of Defense. They provide grassroots advocacy, education for lawmakers and the public, and support legislation that benefits disabled veterans.

Fatigues Clothesline: The Fatigues Clothesline is an awareness and art-based program for service members and veterans coping with Military Sexual Trauma. It seeks to create dialogue as well as provide an outlet for people to express themselves openly and discreetly. The website also provides various resources, including poetry, health and wellness tips, and information on ending sexually oppressive language and culture.

Grace after Fire: This page is for women veterans and their loved ones, to connect with one another and with its professional partners, to find resources, to learn and to get involved. They emphasize healing to promote re-engagement in family and personal life and a well lifestyle.

Military Families Learning Community: This portal is one segment of the Learning Center for Child and Adolescent Trauma, a project of the Nation Child Traumatic Stress Network. This portal offers speakers series and podcasts for family members and caretakers of military personnel.

Military OneSource: Military OneSource is provided by the Department of Defense at no cost to active duty, Guard and Reserve (regardless of activation status) and their families. It is a virtual extension of installation services. 1-800-342-9647. However, victims who desire assistance with sexual assault should request to speak directly with a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator at or near their location.  OneSource operators cannot offer Restricted Reporting to military members.

Military Rape Crisis Center: This private organization provides information for veterans, active duty service members, and allies interested in getting involved. It includes a staff of case managers and provides information on how to get involved in preventing sexual violence against military members. They also have a Facebook page: MRCC: Supporting Survivors of Military Sexual Trauma.

My Duty to Speak: This website acts as a blog for posting true personal accounts of people who experience sexual violence in the military and the responses to their trauma. Many people share an experience of re-victimization within the system meant to protect them. It is important to note that posting content online is not confidential and that exercising self care is important when reviewing difficult materials.

Mothers Against Military Sexual Trauma: This page on Facebook provides a forum for posting and discussion on issues related to military sexual trauma. It’s a place for social networking users to connect with other people and organizations who share a similar interest in ending military sexual violence and supporting people who have been impacted by it.

MyDuty.mil: This webpage is a site provided by the Department of Defense sharing information on the MyDuty campaign and resources for people affected by sexual violence in the military, options for reporting, options for seeking help or care, and information for supervisors.

National Center on Domestic and Sexual Violence, Sexual Violence Issues in the Military: The National Center has a particular focus on the military's response to domestic and sexual violence. See their Military Links and PTSD and TBI Links.

National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder at the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs: The Center aims to help U.S. Veterans and others through research, education, and training on trauma and PTSD.

Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN): SWAN is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving women service members and veterans through advocacy, education, and referrals. This organization does policy work and seeks to change the culture of the military to be equal opportunity for all people.

Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO): SAPRO is the organization responsible for the oversight of Department of Defense (DoD) sexual assault policy. The Department of Defense is committed to the prevention of sexual assault. The Department has implemented a comprehensive policy to ensure the safety, dignity and well being of all members of the Armed Forces.

Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program: The SHARP Program coordinates prevention and awareness raising efforts for the Army. The I. A.M. Strong Campaign is a project of SHARP. Their website provides resources on sexual assault response and prevention for service members and supervisors, as well as information on policy, procedures, and reporting.

VetWow: Advocates for women and men impacted by military sexual trauma. They promote safety and security for all people, particularly people who experienced sexual violence in the military. They also promote policy and practices for holding offenders accountable for their actions.

Articles referenced:

Sadler, A. G., Booth, B. M., Cook, B. L., & Doebelling, B. N. (2003). Factors associated with women's risk of rape in the military environment. American Journal of Industrial Medicine, 43, 262-273. doi:10.1002/ajim.10202

Kimerling, R., Gima, K., Smith, M. W., Street, A., & Frayne, S. (2007). The Veterans Health Administration and military sexual trauma. American Journal of Public Health, 97, 2160-2166. doi:10.2105/AJPH.2006.092999 Retrieved from http://ajph.aphapublications.org/cgi/reprint/97/12/2160

Callahan, J. L. (2009). Manifestations of power and control: Training as the catalyst for scandal at the United States Air Force Academy. Violence Against Women, 15, 1149-1168. doi:10.1177/1077801209344341

Cater, J. K., & Leach, J. (2011). Veterans, military sexual trauma and PTSD: Rehabilitation planning implications. Journal of Applied Rehabilitation Counseling, 42(2), 33-40.

Suris, A., & Lind, L. (2008). Military sexual trauma: A review of prevalence and associated health consequences in veterans. Trauma, Violence, & Abuse, 9, 250-269. doi:10.1177/1524838008324419

Turchik, J. A., & Wilson, S. M. (2010). Sexual assault in the U.S. military: A review of the literature and recommendations for the future. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15, 267-277. doi:10.1016/j.avb.2010.01.005

Williams, I. & Berstein, K. (2011). Military sexual trauma among U.S. female veterans. Archives of Psychiatric Nursing, 25, 138-147. doi:10.1016/j.apnu.2010.07.003

Natelson, R. (2009). A case for federal oversight of military sexual harassment. Clearinghouse Review: Journal of Poverty Law and Policy, 43, 277-281. Retrieved from http://servicewomen.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/A-Case-for-Federal-Oversight-of-Military-Sexual-Harassment-R.-Natelson.pdf