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OEF/OIF Servicewomen Remain Reluctant to Report Military Sexual Assault despite More Knowledge about Reporting Options


BACKGROUND:
The DoD has continued to review the prevalence of sexual assault (SA) and service members' perceptions of policy and program effectiveness through routine surveys of active-duty service members and Reserve members. The 2012 survey's prevalence estimate of unwanted sexual contact within the previous 12 months among servicewomen was nearly 7%, of which 33% reported the SA to military authorities. In the Reserve component, the 2012 prevalence rate was almost 3%, of which 20% reported to military authorities. This study sought to identify factors associated with officially reporting sexual assault in-military (SAIM), examining demographic, military, and sexual assault characteristics, as well as perceptions and experiences of reporting. Investigators identified a Midwestern community sample of active duty (n=674) and Reserve and National Guard (n=665) servicewomen. Interviews were conducted from 3/10 through 12/11, and data were analyzed in 2013. Participants were provided with definitions of restricted (law enforcement is not informed, nor does the command structure become involved) and unrestricted (law enforcement and the command structure are notified, and a criminal investigation is initiated) reporting before being asked about their use of either option.

FINDINGS:

  • Of the 1,339 OEF/OIF servicewomen in this study, 18% of the active duty service members and 12% of the Reserve/National Guard members experienced SAIM. However, despite increased knowledge about how to report SAIM, there was no increase in rates of reporting compared to earlier VA-enrolled samples; the number of servicewomen who knew how to officially report increased from 57% to 65%, but the rates of reporting were similar, 26% vs. 25%.
  • Restricted reporting was rated more positively, but unrestricted reporting was used more often (40 vs. 15 reports).
  • Experiences of servicewomen who reported SAIM reinforced concerns of those who did not report, i.e., loss of confidentiality, adverse treatment by peers, no action taken against the perpetrator.
  • Officers were less likely to report than enlisted servicewomen (10% vs. 28%).

LIMITATIONS:

  • This study used a regional vs. national sample of servicewomen.
  • Comparisons between active duty and reserve servicewomen's reporting experiences were hampered by low statistical power, a result of so few servicewomen choosing to report.

IMPLICATIONS:
Actual and perceived reporting consequences deter servicewomen from reporting. Until SAIM can be prevented, addressing reporting outcomes (e.g., ensuring confidentiality, preventing reprisal, investigating offenders) is needed for service members to believe that reporting is in their best interest and that of the larger military community.

AUTHOR/FUNDING INFORMATION:
The study was partly funded by HSR&D (DHI 05-059, DHI 08-136). Drs. Mengeling and Sadler are part of HSR&D's Center for Comprehensive Access & Delivery Research and Evaluation in Iowa City, IA.


PubMed Logo Mengeling M, Booth B, Torner J, and Sadler A. Reporting Sexual Assault in the Military: Who Reports and Why Most Servicewomen Don’t. American Journal of Preventive Medicine. July 2014;47(1):17-25.

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HSR&D requires notification by HSR&D-funded investigators about all articles accepted for publication. These journal articles are reviewed by HSR&D and publication briefs or summaries are written for a select number of articles that are then forwarded to VHA Central Office leadership to keep them informed about important findings or information. Articles to be summarized are selected by HSR&D based on timeliness of the findings, interest of leadership, or potential impact on the organization. Publication briefs are written for only a small number of HSR&D published articles. Visit the HSR&D citations database for a complete listing of HSR&D articles and presentations.