In addition to validating the initial findings from the study published in December 2014, the new results reveal unprecedented detail about the frequency of criminal sexual assault against service members, the nature and context of those assaults, and how they differ for men and women in each branch of service. The report also provides more detail on the prevalence and nature of sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the military.
About 170,000 active and reserve service members, or 30 percent of the 560,000 invited, answered questions for the study, one of the largest of its kind. While the survey included active and reserve component members of the Coast Guard, results from that portion of the study will be published later.
The new results validate RAND researchers’ initial estimate that approximately 20,300 of the U.S. military’s 1.3 million active-component service members were sexually assaulted in the past year. This represents 4.9 percent of active-component women and 1 percent of active-component men.
New findings indicate that most (65 percent) of these incidents occurred on a military installation or ship. Also, 81 percent of men and 89 percent of women said the perpetrator was another person in the military, and 54 percent of those who said they were assaulted by someone in the military (roughly the same for men and women) said the perpetrator was someone of a higher rank.
The RAND study presents results from the first survey large enough to characterize assaults against men, and the full results found important differences in experiences of men and women. Men who were sexually assaulted were more likely than women to have experienced multiple incidents in the past year, to have been assaulted by multiple offenders during a single incident, and to have been assaulted at work or during duty hours.
Men also were more likely to describe an event as hazing or intended to abuse or humiliate them. Sexual assaults of men were less likely to involve alcohol than assaults of women, according to the study. Finally, men who experienced a sexual assault were less likely to report it to authorities or tell anyone about the incident.
The full results confirm RAND researchers’ initial finding that the risk of sexual assault varies substantially by branch of service. Men and women in the Air Force experienced substantially lower rates of sexual assault than those in the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.
RAND researchers analyzed the association between many factors and sexual assaults, including age, education, pay grade, deployment rates and installation size. After accounting for service differences on these characteristics, members of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps experienced similar levels of risk, but members of the Air Force remained at lower risk. Women in the other military services had 1.7 times the risk of sexual assault as women in the Air Force, while men in the services had a 4-to-5 time higher risk of sexual assault as men in the Air Force.
The study found that sexual harassment is a common experience, especially among women. An estimated 116,600 U.S. active component service members were sexually harassed in the past year, with women experiencing significantly higher rates than men (22 percent of women and 7 percent of men). In nearly 60 percent of those cases, a supervisor or unit leader was reported as committing the violations. In addition, 43,900 active-component service members experienced gender discrimination in the past year (12 percent of women and 2 percent of men).
Researchers say the new findings indicate that sexual harassment and gender discrimination are strongly associated with sexual assault. Members who experienced sexual harassment or gender discrimination in the past year experienced far higher rates of sexual assault. About a third of those who were sexually assaulted say the offender sexually harassed them before the assault.
An estimated 52 percent of active-component women who formally reported a sexual assault perceived that they experienced professional or social retaliation afterward.
Finally, the research found that the reserve component had significantly lower rates of sexual assault in the past year than the active component. Among reserve-component members, 3.1 percent of women and 0.4 percent of men experienced a sexual assault in the past year.
Demographic and service factors examined by RAND do not explain this lower risk for reserve-component members. About 81 percent of the assailants of reserve-component members were members of the military, and 63 percent of the assaults occurred in a military setting. Even among part-time reservists, most who experienced a sexual assault in the past year indicated that the incident involved military personnel or settings (85 percent).
“Our study has provided new insights into gender differences in sexual assault and on the risk and consequences of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the military,” said Andrew Morral, co-leader of the research and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND, a nonprofit research organization. “These findings should facilitate new, more-targeted strategies for combatting these problems in military and nonmilitary settings as well.”
“While there’s a great deal of work that needs to be done to understand how best to address these challenging problems, RAND’s role was to provide the clarity that could drive change,” said Kristie Gore, co-leader of the project and a senior behavioral scientist at RAND.
The congressionally mandated study was sponsored by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) within the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Department of the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies and the defense intelligence community.
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