COMMENTARY

Sexual Abuse and Military Women

Laurie Scudder, DNP, NP

Disclosures

August 20, 2013

Study Findings

The final study included 13,262 active-duty women who provided complete information. Women were classified according to the type of sexual stressor reported:

Sexual assault and sexual harassment: 152 women

Sexual assault only: 121 women

Sexual harassment only: 1089 women

No sexual stressor: 11,900 women

Approximately 10% of the sample reported at least 1 episode of a sexual stressor in the 3-year period between the baseline and follow-up questionnaires. During that same period, approximately 20% of the women were deployed. Deployed women involved in combat experienced the highest incidence of sexual stress, reporting twice as many incidents as women not involved in combat or combat-like situations. Of interest, women who had been deployed before the baseline survey were less likely to report experiencing a recent sexual stressor, although that result was statistically significant only among women who reported both sexual harassment and sexual assault.

Younger women (those born after 1980) were 5 times more likely to report sexual harassment or assault as women born before 1960. Women who reported experiencing sexual stressors on the baseline questionnaire were 5 times as likely to report subsequent episodes. Other factors associated with a higher incidence of sexual stress included service in the Marine Corps, a separation or divorce since the baseline survey, more life stress in general, mental disorders reported at baseline, and enlisted vs officer status.

Viewpoint

This large survey helps to better define the issue of sexual stressors experienced by military women. Many of the findings are not surprising and confirm earlier research in military women and in women in general. Younger women, women recently separated or divorced, those with mental health risk factors such as binge drinking, and those reporting more life stress are the most vulnerable and the most likely to experience sexual stressors. The fact that the highest incidence of sexual stress occurs among women in combat roles -- a high-stress, male-dominated environment -- is also not surprising.

This is not an issue just for nurses serving in the military; most military women eventually leave the military and bring these experiences with them. This large study confirms the importance of screening all of these women for sexual stressors, with particular attention to women who have served in combat roles.

Abstract

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