One in Four U.S. Vets Know a Military Sexual Trauma Victim

One in Four U.S. Vets Know a Military Sexual Trauma Victim

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Photo: The National Guard
Photo: The National Guard

One in four U.S. veterans (24 percent) say they know a service member or veteran who was a victim of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape that occurred in the military. Female veterans (60 percent) are three times more likely than male veterans (20 percent) to say they know someone who has been victimized under these circumstances.

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The Gallup veteran data are based on telephone interviews with 1,268 U.S. adults, aged 18 and older, who identified themselves as veterans in a Gallup Daily tracking survey, and who agreed to be recontacted for future surveys. The survey of veterans was conducted June 16-20 and includes 906 men and an oversample of 362 women.

To provide a comparative context for these veterans’ reports, Gallup on July 2-3 interviewed 857 Americans in the general population who are not veterans. These nonveterans were asked whether someone they know had been the victim of sexual harassment, sexual assault, or rape by a coworker. Eighteen percent of this nonveteran sample said “yes,” somewhat lower than the 24 percent of veterans who know a victim of sexual assault, rape, or sexual harassment in the military.

This difference largely reflects the high percentage of female veterans who know a victim from military service. Male veterans (20 percent) are about equally likely to know a victim in the military as male (17 percent) and female (19 percent) nonveterans are to know a victim in the workplace. Although the military is unlike most work environments in the civilian world, comparing the two highlights female veterans’ extraordinarily high level of personal knowledge of a victim.

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Sexual assault, rape, and repeated sexual harassment experienced during military service are categorized together as Military Sexual Trauma (MST) by the Veterans Administration. It is difficult to pinpoint how many troops and veterans are victims of MST because some experts believe only a fraction of the cases are officially reported. In the year ending Sept. 30, 2013, the Pentagon saw a 50 percent rise in the number of reported sexual assaults over the previous year, but it was unclear whether this constituted an increase in actual assaults or if, as a result of recent reforms, victims were beginning to feel more comfortable in coming forward. All told, the number of reported MST incidents in fiscal year 2013 totaled 5,061 sexual assaults and 1,366 incidents of sexual harassment among 1.4 million active duty U.S. troops.

Women More Likely Than Men to Say Military Not Doing Enough to Combat MST

The rise in MST reports has brought increased pressure on military leaders to step up efforts to address the problem. When asked about the military’s efforts to address rape, 48 percent of veterans say the military has done too little. This includes 69 percent of female veterans and 46 percent of male veterans. Nonveterans are even more likely to be convinced that the military has not addressed the problem sufficiently, with 64 percent saying the military has done too little about rape. There is little difference between male and female nonveterans’ views on this issue.

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The same pattern holds regarding views of the military’s efforts relating to sexual harassment. Four in 10 veterans surveyed (42 percent) say the military has done too little to address sexual harassment, lower than the 51 percent of nonveterans who hold this view. Male nonveterans are more likely than male veterans to perceive that the military has done too little on this issue, while the reverse holds true among women.

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When asked about the military’s handling of “other forms of sexual assault,” 46 percent of veterans surveyed say the military has done too little to combat the problem, compared with 61 percent of nonveterans. Here, female veterans and female nonveterans are similar in their views, while male nonveterans are significantly more likely than male veterans to say the military has done too little.

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Bottom Line

More than half of women who have served in the military report knowing someone who has been the victim of rape, sexual harassment, or sexual assault while in the military, much higher than the comparable percentage of female nonveterans who know someone who has been such a victim of a coworker. These results suggest that sexual victimization is a real and substantial problem in the military, and that significant percentages of veterans and nonveterans alike – particularly including female veterans – perceive that the military is doing too little to address these issues.

The issue of MST garnered national attention this past winter, with a proposed Senate bill to make it easier for service members to report sexual assaults by shifting prosecution outside the chain of command. The measure was eventually defeated while a less controversial bill advanced to the House, but the media coverage helped bring the issue to the forefront for the public. This may partly explain why majorities of nonveterans say the military is not doing enough to address sexual assault, rape, and sexual harassment in the armed services. In fact, nonveterans are more likely than veterans to say the military has done too little to address MST issues, suggesting that the public widely perceives such conduct as a problem.

Source: Gallup

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