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Reporting Sexual Assault in the Military

Who Reports and Why Most Servicewomen Don’t
  • Michelle A. Mengeling
    Correspondence
    Address correspondence to: Michelle A. Mengeling, PhD, Comprehensive Access & Delivery Research & Evaluation Center, Iowa City Veterans Affairs Health Care System, 601 Hwy 6 West, Mail Stop 152, Iowa City IA 52246
    Affiliations
    Center for Comprehensive Access & Delivery Research & Evaluation, University of Iowa College of Public Health, Iowa City, Iowa

    Veterans Affairs Office of Rural Health, Veterans Rural Health Resource Center–Central Region, University of Iowa College of Public Health, Iowa City, Iowa

    Iowa City Veterans Affairs Health Care System, Department of Internal Medicine, University of Iowa College of Public Health, Iowa City, Iowa
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  • Brenda M. Booth
    Affiliations
    Center for Mental Healthcare Outcomes and Research, Central Arkansas Healthcare System & Department of Psychiatry, University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Little Rock, Arkansas
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  • James C. Torner
    Affiliations
    Department of Neurosurgery and Surgery, University of Iowa College of Public Health, Iowa City, Iowa

    Department of Epidemiology, University of Iowa College of Public Health, Iowa City, Iowa
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  • Anne G. Sadler
    Affiliations
    Center for Comprehensive Access & Delivery Research & Evaluation, University of Iowa College of Public Health, Iowa City, Iowa

    Department of Psychiatry, University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine, Iowa City, Iowa
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      Background

      Public and congressional attention to the Department of Defense’s (DoD’s) efforts to prevent and respond to sexual assault in the military (SAIM) is increasing. To promote reporting, the DoD offers (1) restricted reporting, allowing confidential reporting to designated military personnel without triggering an official investigation, and (2) unrestricted reporting, which initiates a criminal investigation.

      Purpose

      To identify factors associated with officially reporting SAIM by examining demographic, military, and sexual assault characteristics and survey reporting perceptions and experiences. Differences between active component (AC) (full-time active duty) and Reserve and National Guard (RNG) were explored.

      Methods

      A Midwestern community sample of currently serving and veteran servicewomen (1,339) completed structured telephone interviews. RNG interviews were conducted March 2010 to September 2010 and AC interviews from October 2010 to December 2011. Data were analyzed in 2013. Logistic regression analyses examined demographic, military, and SA characteristics related to SAIM reporting. Bivariate statistics tested differences between AC and RNG.

      Results

      A total of 205 servicewomen experienced SAIM and 25% reported. More AC servicewomen experienced SAIM, but were no more likely to report than RNG servicewomen. Restricted reporting was rated more positively, but unrestricted reporting was used more often. Reporters’ experiences corroborated non-reporters’ concerns of lack of confidentiality, adverse treatment by peers, and beliefs that nothing would be done. Officers were less likely to report than enlisted servicewomen.

      Conclusions

      Actual and perceived reporting consequences deter servicewomen from reporting. SAIM undermines trust in military units, mission readiness, and the health and safety of all service members.
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