Nine of 10 female veterans younger than 50 said they were sexually harassed in the military and one-fourth reported they were victims of rape or attempted rape by co-workers or supervisors, a study said.
The sexual-assault rates were about 20 times what has been reported for women in other government jobs, researchers said in the May issue of the Archives of Family Medicine, published by the American Medical Association.
“This suggests that women who enter the military may be at much higher risk of sexual assault than other government employees, and future military policies should address these concerns,” the researchers said.
The lead researcher, Dr. Maureen Murdoch, and her co-author, Dr. Kristin L. Nichol, both of the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Minnesota School of Medicine, questioned 333 women treated at the center in 1992-93.
Women discharged from the military within the previous year were twice as likely to have been victims of sexual harassment, rape or attempted rape as women discharged a decade before, the researchers found.
Harassment may have increased in recent years because more women have entered traditionally male jobs and have increasingly reported to men and worked alongside them, the researchers said.
Ninety percent of the women younger than 50 said they were sexually harassed in the military. Twenty-five percent said they were victims of rape or attempted rape by co-workers or superiors.
Eighteen percent said they had promotions or transfers blocked or were given poor assignments after refusing superior officers’ requests for sexual favors, the researchers said.
Of women 50 and older, 37 percent said they were sexually harassed in the military and 8 percent said they were victims of rape or attempted rape. Three percent said they had promotions or transfers blocked or were given poor assignments after refusing requests for sexual favors.
Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said officials had not studied the report. But based on a news account of the study, he said the findings were “completely out of line” with a 1988 Pentagon survey.
In that study of 10,750 active-duty women in all four services and the Coast Guard, 5 percent reported “some type of sexual assault,” he said. Also, 64 percent reported sexual harassment, ranging from being teased to being cornered.
“We take seriously all reports and we look into them,” Bacon said.
Murdoch said she would expect her findings to be different from the Pentagon’s, partly because women who seek VA hospital services are not representative of all veterans or of military personnel. More research is needed to gauge the extent of the problem, she said.
Also, Murdoch said, her survey asked women about their entire careers while the Pentagon survey took snapshots at mid-career.
“We should give the military credit,” she said. “They’ve been working hard to develop programs to prevent sexual harassment and to develop policies to deal with it.”
She noted that within the past two years, VA hospitals have begun offering programs to help veterans deal with sexual harassment.