Posted September 9, 2014
Anne Sadler, RN, Ph.D., VA Medical Center, Iowa City

Anne Sadler, RN, Ph.D. Sexual assault in the military was frequently in the news in 2013. As the discussion of the extent and effects of sexual assault in the military continues, the concrete data provided by Dr. Anne Sadler, of the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Health Care System, will be highly informative. Dr. Sadler was funded in 2007, the initial year of the Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Research Program, to examine the effects of trauma on military women.

Unprecedented numbers of female soldiers have been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan, yet little is known about the risk factors for assault in deployed servicewomen. Dr. Sadler and her team interviewed more than 650 women in the Active Duty Military and more than 650 women serving in the Reserve or National Guard about their military service experience. Women serving in the United States Air Force and Army were included in this study sample, and two-thirds had been deployed at least once. The interview assessed socio-demographic variables, trauma exposures, health history, current health status, military environmental factors (organizational and situational factors), health care and barriers to care, and self-reported service use.

Initial results of this cross-sectional study showed that 18% (245/1339) of these women experienced one or more sexual assaults during their military service. Rates of sexual assault were found to be higher among servicewomen ever deployed, but were more likely to occur when they were in non-deployed locations. Consequently, risk factors for sexual assault are being examined in a separate study for deployed and non-deployed locations while considering service type (Reserve or National Guard and Active Duty).

Among the subsample who experienced sexual assault during military service, more than two-thirds did not seek medical or mental health care specific to their assault because they were concerned about confidentiality, feared adverse career consequences, or were embarrassed. Veterans who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan were no more likely to report seeking care in comparison to women still serving.

Dr. Sadler and her team continue to identify additional factors associated with sexual assault of military women and consequent health impacts as they perform further evaluations of their data. The identification of servicewomen's unique health care needs or disparities to care access will facilitate earlier treatment interventions to improve quality of life and forestall the high-risk health behaviors that result from trauma exposures. The findings from this and other related studies will provide important information for the Department of Defense and Department of Veterans Affairs to consider when assessing health care delivery needs for military women and to allow evidence-based interventions to improve the safety and health of military women.

Dr. Sadler and Her Team

Mengeling MA, Booth BM, Torner JC, and Sadler AG. 2014. Reporting sexual assault in the military who reports and why most servicewomen don't. American Journal of Preventive Medicine 47(1):17-25.


Public and Technical Abstracts: Combat, Sexual Assault, and Post-Traumatic Stress in OIF/OEF Military Women

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