Health Services Research & Development

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2006 HSR&D National Meeting Abstract


3022 — Association Between Sexual Harassment and Adverse Outcomes After Controlling for Other Traumas

Author List:
Murdoch M_ (Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research/Minneapolis VA Medical Center)
Pryor JB (University of Illinois-Normal)
Gackstetter GD (Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences)
Hodges J (Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research/Minneapolis VA Medical Center)
O'Brien N (Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research/Minneapolis VA Medical Center)
Cowper D (Rehabilitation Outcomes Research Center)
Fortier L (Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research/Minneapolis VA Medical Center)
Schult T (Center for Chronic Disease Outcomes Research/Minneapolis VA Medical Center)

Objectives:
Military sexual harassment frequently covaries with other trauma experiences. Because analyses often omit the latter, they could confound previously reported associations between sexual harassment and adverse psychological and physical outcomes. We examined the association between sexual harassment; selected psychological symptoms; and physical, work, role, and social functioning in several active-duty samples after controlling for other trauma experiences.

Methods:
Cross-sectional survey using well-validated measures. Effective response rates ranged from 76% to 100%. Active duty respondents included 204 troops at a Southern Army installation, 187 Midwestern Tri-Care enrollees, and 607 nationally representative VA enrollees. Women (39%) and enlisteds (83%) were oversampled.

Results:
Across samples, most (94%) reported childhood physical or emotional abuse; 19.5% reported childhood sexual abuse. Since entering the military, subjects reported 2.2 trauma events on average; 14.8% reported combat exposure. Almost 80% of women reported military sexual harassment and 11.7%, sexual assault. Among men, 43.8% reported sexual harassment and 1.7%, sexual assault. Before adjustment, sexual harassment severity was significantly associated with greater symptoms of PTSD (r = .23), anxiety (r = .16), depression (r = .16), and somatization (r = .26) and with poorer work, role, and social functioning (r = .14) and physical functioning (r = .13; all p’s < 0.0001). After adjustment for other traumas, it remained marginally correlated with PTSD symptoms only (adjusted r = .09, p = 0.049), but the other tests had low power. The small-magnitude association between PTSD and sexual harassment was completely explained by our sexual harassment measure’s inclusion of work-related rape.

Implications:
The association between study outcomes and sexual harassment attenuated substantially when other trauma experiences were controlled. Because most adjusted tests had low power, we cannot exclude a small association between psychological and functional outcomes and sexual harassment.

Impacts:
Multiple trauma experiences are common among military personnel and need to be controlled when exploring the impact of sexual harassment on psychological and functional outcomes. How sexual harassment is defined (i.e., is work-related rape included?) is also likely to affect findings.