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Experts Look at How Sexual Assault Impacts Male Service Members

Marines ride to ‘Take a Stand’ against sexual assault. (Photo by Lance Cpl. Reba James)

Sexual assault within the military continues to receive increasing attention. While sexual assault happens to both men and women in the military, little is known about the impact of sexual assault on men. During the 2017 Defense Centers of Excellence for Psychological Health and Traumatic Brain Injury Summit, Ms. Cynthia LeardMann, a senior epidemiologist, presented findings focused on sexual assault and sexual harassment pulled from the Millennium Cohort Study.

Servicemen and Sexual Assault

The number of servicemen affected by unwanted sexual contact is similar to that of servicewomen. Between 2015 and 2016, there were approximately10,000 reported incidences of sexual assault of men and approximately 13,000 reported incidences of women. Despite these numbers, most research has focused on the impact of sexual assault on women.

“There’s a gap in the literature regarding men and sexual assault,” LeardMann said. “We wanted to look at the full impact of sexual harassment and sexual assault with regards to men serving in the military.”

The Study

Launched in 2001, The Millennium Cohort Study is the largest prospective study of U.S. military including all service branches and components: active duty, reserves and National Guard. It currently includes more than 200,000 participants of current and former service members. Participants complete questionnaires to collect information on physical, mental and behavioral health approximately every three years. As part of the ongoing study, LeardMann examined data looking at the association of sexual assault with health and military-related outcomes among male service members. Military-related outcomes studied included difficulties related to work, demotions, separation or retirement, and civilian employment status after military separation.

Milennium Cohort Study Survey Graph

Figure 1 Millennium Cohort Study survey graph, Image by Cynthia LeardMann

The Millennium Cohort Study found that servicemen experience different impacts on their careers after sexual assault or sexual harassment as compared to women.

Proportion of Servicemen Experiencing Selected Outcomes by Sexual Trauma Status
Figure 2 - Millenium Chohort Study, Image By Cynthia LeardMann

Servicemen who’ve experienced sexual assault or harassment are more likely to be unemployed or disabled after they’ve come out of the military compared to men who’ve not experienced sexual trauma or assault,” LeardMann says.

In comparison, servicewomen were more likely to be demoted after sexual assault or sexual harassment.

Results of the study also suggest that sexual assault has a significant, negative impact on health and function that may decrease military readiness and extend into post-military life. Evidence of physical health adversely affecting work was seen in servicemen who reported sexual harassment or assault

Conclusions and Next Steps

After collecting and analyzing the results of this study, LeardMann concluded that “the study suggests men and women do respond differently to sexual harassment and assault.” It also showed that men who experience sexual assault and harassment may have a higher risk than women for adverse psychological and physical health.

LeardMann proposed a few different suggestions for ways to move forward, to include the need for:

  • Prevention strategies and services to reduce the burden of sexual assault on survivors
  • More effective/targeted strategies and policies to prevent sexual assault among servicemen
  • Improved assistance to servicemen who have experienced sexual assault

LeardMann added that more research will help clinicians understand any gender effects associated with psychological, physical and occupational outcomes of sexual assault.

“As far as examining the difference between men and women, we don’t know of any studies that have done a direct comparison between men and women,” LeardMann said.

The Millennium Cohort study continues to follow participants even after they’ve left service to learn more about their long-term physical, behavioral and mental health to include the effects of sexual assault and assault.

The Psychological Health Center of Excellence recently published a Clinician’s Corner Blog about providing support and raising awareness of male sexual assault in the military. To learn more, read the full blog post online.

You May be Interested in these links for More Information about Sexual Assault in the Military:

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This page was last updated on: October 24, 2017.