Individual and Military Factors That Modify the Association Between Recent Sexual Trauma and Health Outcomes Among U.S. Service Members and Veterans

J Interpers Violence. 2023 Sep;38(17-18):10150-10181. doi: 10.1177/08862605231173909. Epub 2023 Jun 4.


Sexual trauma (ST), which includes both sexual harassment and sexual assault, is associated with a variety of adverse mental and physical health outcomes in military and civilian populations. However, little is known about whether certain individual or military attributes or prior experiences may modify the relationship between recent ST and mental or physical health outcomes. Data from a longitudinal cohort study of current and former military members were used to examine whether individual and military factors modify the association between recent ST and health outcomes (posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, multiple somatic symptoms, and insomnia). Results indicated that demographic (sex, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity) and military factors (service branch, service component, military separation) generally did not modify the main effect of ST on the outcomes examined. On the other hand, factors known to be protective (spirituality, social support) and risk factors (childhood trauma, combat deployment, and mental health status) did modify the effect of ST on multiple outcomes examined; notably, protective effects were diminished among those who experienced recent ST. Protective factors were associated with the lowest risk of adverse outcomes among those with no ST, while risk reduction was less among survivors of ST. Diminished impacts also were found for cumulative risk factors, with the influence of multiple individual risk factors associated with increased risk but in a subadditive manner. We conclude that the effect of recent ST on the outcomes examined was persistent in the presence of potential protective factors, but that it may be impacted by ceiling effects in combination with other risk factors.

Keywords: PTSD; sexual assault; sexual harassment.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Military Personnel* / psychology
  • Outcome Assessment, Health Care
  • Sex Offenses* / psychology
  • Sexual Harassment* / psychology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic* / psychology
  • Veterans* / psychology