Reporting sexual assault in the military: who reports and why most servicewomen don't

Am J Prev Med. 2014 Jul;47(1):17-25. doi: 10.1016/j.amepre.2014.03.001. Epub 2014 May 19.


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.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Crime Victims / psychology
  • Crime Victims / statistics & numerical data*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Interviews as Topic
  • Logistic Models
  • Middle Aged
  • Military Personnel / psychology
  • Military Personnel / statistics & numerical data*
  • Sex Offenses / statistics & numerical data*
  • Truth Disclosure*
  • United States
  • Veterans / psychology
  • Veterans / statistics & numerical data
  • Young Adult