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IIR 96-014 – HSR Study

IIR 96-014
Antecedents and Consequences of Sexual Harassment in the Military
Maureen Murdoch, MD MPH
Minneapolis VA Health Care System, Minneapolis, MN
Minneapolis, MN
Funding Period: October 1998 - March 2003
Sexual harrassment's prevalence is extremely high among active duty men and women. However, the antecedants and consequences of sexual harrassment in this population are poorly described and often confounded by analytical and study design problems.

1) Describe the feasibility of conducting a longitudinal study of sexual harrassment among active duty men and women that would address previous work's limitations; 2) estimate the sample size of active duty mean and women needed for such a study; and 3) provide preliminary estimates of association between potentially modifiable risk/protective factors, sexual harrassment, and specific adverse psychiatric and functional outcomes.

After initial focus-group work, the following groups were surveyed either directly or through repeated mailings: 204 active duty men and women at a southern Army installation, 701 veterans and active duty men and women receiving care from the Minneapolis VA Medical Center, and 1,972 active duty men and women who received outpatient care from any VA medical facility between January 1, 1998 and June 20, 2002. Of the latter group, 150 men and women also participated in a cohort study designed to assess long-term tracking success.

Effective response rates ranged from 60% to 87%. Almost 92% of respondents queried said they would participate in a longitudinal study. Women reported much higher rates of sexual harrassment (79.8%) and assualt (15.5%) than men (38.4% and 1.3% respectively; p<0.001 for both). Before adjustment, the organizational characteristic most predictive of women's sexual harrassment severity was the command chain's perceived toleration of sexual harrassment (r=0.30, p<0.001). After adjustment, this factor accounted for 12.6% of the variance in women's harrassment on a log scale. Other predictors of sexual harrassment severity for women included being unmarried (p=0.03) and childhood physical abuse (p=0.0001). There was an interaction between race and childhood physical abuse such that sexual harrassment severity was greater among non-blacks with a history of childhood physical abuse than among blacks with the same history (p=0.039). Before adjustment, sexual harrassment severity was significantly associated with greater symtoms of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, and somatization and with porrer overall physical, work, role, and social functioning (all p's <0.0001). After adjustment, sexual harrassment severity remained a statistically significant predictor of PTSD symptoms (p=0.02), but not of the other outcomes. However, power for these latter tests were low. We likewise had insufficient power to identify predictors of men's sexual harrassment severity.

Conducting a long-term cohort study among actice duty men and women is feasible. The command chain's perceived toleration of sexual harrassment appears to be an especially important predictor of sexual harrassment severity among women, and if modified, could potentially substantially reduce military women's sexual harrassment. Risk factors for sexual harrassment among women may vary by race. To understand predictors of men's sexual harrssment, a much larger sample size will be required. Sexual harrassment predicted PTSD symptom severity; to understand its effect on other psychiatric and functional outcomes, larger sample sizes will be needed.

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Journal Articles

  1. Reddy MK, Murdoch M. Does the Factor Structure of Military Sexual Stressors in Men Correspond to Women's? A Confirmatory Factor Analysis Using the Sexual Harassment Inventory. Military medicine. 2016 Feb 1; 181(2):161-6. [view]
  2. Murdoch M, Pryor JB, Polusny MA, Gackstetter GD. Functioning and psychiatric symptoms among military men and women exposed to sexual stressors. Military medicine. 2007 Jul 1; 172(7):718-25. [view]
  3. Murdoch M, Hodges J, Hunt C, Cowper D, Kressin N, O'Brien N. Gender Differences in service connection for PTSD. Medical care. 2003 Aug 1; 41(8):950-61. [view]
  4. Murdoch M, Pryor JB, Polusny MA, Gackstetter GD, Ripley DC. Local social norms and military sexual stressors: do senior officers' norms matter? Military medicine. 2009 Oct 1; 174(10):1100-4. [view]
  5. Reddy MK, Murdoch M. Sex differences in the factor structure of a modified Sexual Experiences Questionnaire. Psychological reports. 2010 Dec 1; 107(3):773-83. [view]
  6. Seifert AE, Polusny MA, Murdoch M. The association between childhood physical and sexual abuse and functioning and psychiatric symptoms in a sample of U.S. Army soldiers. Military medicine. 2011 Feb 1; 176(2):176-81. [view]
  7. Murdoch M, Pryor JB, Polusny MA, Wall MM, Ripley DC, Gackstetter GD. The association between military sexual stress and psychiatric symptoms after controlling for other stressors. Journal of psychiatric research. 2010 Dec 1; 44(16):1129-36. [view]
  8. Murdoch M, Pryor JB, Griffin JM, Ripley DC, Gackstetter GD, Polusny MA, Hodges JS. Unreliability and error in the military's "gold standard" measure of sexual harassment by education and gender. Journal of trauma & dissociation : the official journal of the International Society for the Study of Dissociation (ISSD). 2011 Jan 1; 12(3):216-31. [view]
Conference Presentations

  1. Murdoch M, Pryor JB, Gackstetter GD, Cowper-Ripley D, Polusny MA. Association between Perceived Local Social Norms and the Reported Severity of Men's and Women’s Military Sexual Harassment. Paper presented at: VA HSR&D National Meeting; 2008 Feb 14; Baltimore, MD. [view]
  2. Murdoch M, Pryor J, Gackstetter G, Hodges J, O'Brien N, Cowper D, Fortier L, Schult T. Association between sexual harassment and adverse outcomes after controlling for other traumas. Poster session presented at: VA HSR&D National Meeting; 2006 Feb 17; Arlington, VA. [view]
  3. Pryor J, Murdoch M, Fortier L, Gackstetter GD, Cowper D. Social norms and sexually harassing behavior: experiences from US soldiers. Paper presented at: Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues Annual Conference; 2000 Jun 1; Minneapolis, MN. [view]
  4. Pryor J, Murdoch M, Fortier G, Gackstetter G, Cowper D. Social Norms and Sexually Harassing Behavior: Experiences from US Soldiers. Paper presented at: Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues International Biennial Convention; 1999 Apr 29; Minneapolis, MN. [view]

DRA: Military and Environmental Exposures
DRE: Epidemiology, Technology Development and Assessment
Keywords: Deployment Related, Sexual abuse, Women - or gender differences
MeSH Terms: Sex Offenses, Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic, Combat Disorders

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