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In Their own Words: Service Women’s Perceptions of the Role of Alcohol in Sexual Assault in the Military

Cretzmeyer MT, Reisinger HS, Mengeling M, Sadler AG, Torner J, Booth BM. In Their own Words: Service Women’s Perceptions of the Role of Alcohol in Sexual Assault in the Military. Poster session presented at: Women's Health Annual Congress; 2011 Apr 1; Arlington, VA.


Abstract Title: In their own words: Service women's perceptions of the role of alcohol in sexual assault in the military Objectives: This study used qualitative methods to explore service women's perceptions of the contribution of alcohol to sexual assault and harassment in the military. Methods: A total of fourteen focus groups were held, eight with groups of OEF/OIF era Reserve/National Guard (R/NG) service women (N = 39) and six with Regular Military (RM) and Veteran OEF/OIF era service women (N = 22) in five Midwestern states . Groups were stratified by Officer/Enlisted personnel and deployment status. The research team developed a coding dictionary of relevant themes. Twenty-nine percent of the transcripts were independently coded by two researchers. Agreement between the coders was 80% or better for the majority of themes/codes. Differences were resolved and used to refine codebook definitions. Remaining transcripts were coded by one of the two trained researchers and entered into NVivo 8.0 for data management and analysis. Results: Officers and Enlisted women from both military groups identified various myths and realities related to the role alcohol plays in sexual assault/harassment in the military, both during deployments and stateside. While there was a consensus in agreement on the contribution of in military alcohol in sexual assault and harassment, minor differences in perceptions between R/NG and RM service women were noted. For example, stigma related to alcohol use was discussed at greater length by RM than R/RG service women. Both groups identified ways older service women attempted to protect younger female soldiers from victimization associated with alcohol use. Implications: Despite the ban on alcohol in OEF/OIF deployments, it appears alcohol occurs in these arenas and is a contributing factor in sexual assaults and harassment. Similar myths regarding women's responsibility for victimization when under the influence of alcohol exist in the military as research demonstrates in civilian populations. Impacts: In-military sexual assault and harassment are contributors to women veterans post deployment mental and physical health problems. Alcohol is a known contributor to sexual misconduct and alcohol use by victims may deter access to medical care during deployment as well as willingness to report assaults both in military and in VA settings, contributing to increased adverse health outcomes.

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