A woman Marine recruit. A new report has concluded that officials need to do more to prevent sexual assaults in the military. (Flickr/Expert Infantry.)
Female veterans who suffered a sexual assault in the military are nine times more likely to develop post-traumatic stress disorder compared to other female veterans, and military officials must do more to prevent these assaults—these are the conclusions of a gripping new government report on the hardships faced by troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mandated by the 2008 National Defense Authorization Act, the 794-page study from the Institute of Medicine is a product of over four years of intense research into what troops face as they return from Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a gripping portrait of post-traumatic stress disorders among some troops, along with traumatic brain injuries, barriers to healthcare, and problems re-adjusting to family and society.
We will be diving into many aspects of this report in the coming days and weeks, but conclusions about military sexual assault were remarkable.
The study found extremely high rates of military sexual trauma, both in men and women. About 48,100 women and 43,700 men reported suffering military sexual trauma, the authors note.
These relatively even numbers are a useful reminder that sexual assault in the military happens not only to women, but men—as was demonstrated at a powerful Senate hearing last week. But women comprise only 14 percent of active-duty military, so even raw numbers don’t reflect the fact that women, in much greater proportions, are the victims of military sexual assault. Over 21 percent of female troops reported military sexual trauma, compared to under 2 percent of men.
And many more assaults no doubt go unreported. The study points to research suggesting as much as 45 percent of female troops experience military sexual trauma. Elsewhere, the Department of Defense estimates that 86.5 percent of violent sexual assaults go unreported.
The study focuses on what these traumas mean for female veteran’s health: as noted, it concludes that women who have suffered a sexual assault in the military are nine times more likely to develop PTSD than female veterans with no history of sexual abuse. Female victims are also at much greater risk for a wide variety of other problems upon return: anxiety, depression, substance abuse and family troubles.
These results explicitly control for other factors that lead to PTSD. Contrary to many conservative talking points when Obama lifted the restriction on women in combat, the research cited in this study found that women handle combat-related stress just as well as men—military sexual trauma is a singular factor bumping up the prevalence of PTSD among women: