Sexual Assault Risks In The US Military: Deployed Vs. Non-deployed Service Women

Unprecedented numbers of women have been deployed to combat zones in Iraq/Afghanistan following 9/11 and servicewomen now comprise approximately 16% of United States active duty and 19% of Reserve/National Guard troops. Since 1990, approximately one in four servicewomen report combat experiences. Even when combat is considered, sexual violence is, unfortunately, one of the greatest health hazards that women face while serving our country.

The RAND Military Workplace Study estimated that approximately 1 in 20 servicewomen experienced sexual assault in the prior year.  However, surprisingly little is known about service women’s risk of sexual assault specific to deployed locations. An Iowa City Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center /University of Iowa Research team sought to address this critical gap in knowledge by not only considering servicewomen’s rates of sexual assault in deployed and non-deployed locations but by including the important factor of time spent in each location. They found that more servicewomen reported their sexual assault occurred when they were not deployed than when they were deployed (16% vs 4%).

However, when the amount of time spent in each location was considered, the risk for sexual assault was greater in deployed than non-deployed locations (3.5 vs 2.4 incidence rates/100 person-years). This indicates that more servicewomen experienced sexual assault while not deployed, but their risk of sexual assault was greater while deployed. Moreover, while active component and Reserve/National Guard servicewomen had similar durations of deployment, Reserve/National Guard servicewomen had higher rates of in-military sexual assault (4.0 vs. 2.8 incidence rates/100 person-years) compared to active component servicewomen.

These significant findings make the distinction between relatively lower risk nondeployed locations, where servicewomen spent the majority of their time and more servicewomen reported sexual assault, and the higher risk deployed locations, with shorter service lengths. Importantly, these findings indicate that both locations require sexual assault risk reductions interventions and supportive services and that differences in assault risk exist for those serving in the active component versus the Reserve/National Guard.

By taking into account the time spent in deployed and non-deployed locations and service type, this work supports the importance of examining unique risk factors for different environments and contexts, in order to better support the health and safety our country’s service members.

These findings are described in the article entitled Sexual assault in the US military: A comparison of risk in deployed and non-deployed locations among Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom active component and Reserve/National Guard servicewomen, published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine, This work was led by Anne G. Sadler from The Iowa City VA Health Care System.

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