Sexual violence is an endemic social problem in the U.S. The victim blaming attitudes of the civilian world often spill into military service, and those attitudes carry over into tours of duty. While the military has been in the spotlight for failing to support victims and respond to and prevent sexual assault, civilian criminal justice systems regularly and systematically fail victims too, and leaders in all forms of institutions fall short of adequately understanding and addressing the problem of sexual violence.1
It is important to note that both women and men can experience sexual harassment or sexual violence during their military service. Veteran's Affairs (VA) refers to these experiences as Military Sexual Trauma (MST). Every VA health care facility has a designated MST Coordinator who serves as a contact person for MST-related issues. This person can help Veterans find access to VA services and programs. Veterans may be able to receive free MST-related care even if they are not eligible for other VA care.
Similar to the larger U.S. society, sexual violence is highly under reported in the military. In the armed forces, victims who reported abuse describe being ostracized and blamed by fellow service members. Evidently, the circulation of rumors and stories impact the ability of survivors to seek assistance and also play a crucial role in influencing victims’ decisions about whether or not to report what happened to them.
A sexual assault victim in the military may make a “restricted report” that allows disclosure to specified individuals (i.e., sexual assault response coordinator (SARC), sexual assault prevention and response victim advocate (SAPR VA), or healthcare personnel). The victim can receive medical treatment, including emergency care, counseling, and assignment of a SARC and SAPR VA, without triggering an official investigation. However, stipulations and exceptions limit the ability to make a restricted report.
A victim may also make an “unrestricted report” without requesting confidentiality or restricted reporting. Under these circumstances, the victim’s report is provided to healthcare personnel, the SARC, a SAPR VA, command authorities, or other persons is reported to law enforcement and may be used to initiate the official investigative process.
When an unrestricted report is made, the alleged offender’s commanding officer has a great deal of discretion about what action can be taken. He/she may take disciplinary, administrative, or legal action against the offender. He/she may also decide to administratively separate the service member from the military. As in the civilian system, many people feel that sexual assault offenders in the military are often not held accountable, which has the effect of minimizing, excusing, and condoning sexual assault and reinforcing sexist attitudes and behavior toward women.2
Resources for Advocates
- Sexual Violence in the Military: A Guide for Civilian Advocates, National Sexual Violence Resource Center.
- Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in Military (2017)
- Statement on Military Sexual Assault, National Alliance to End Sexual Violence
Resources for Service Members
- National Alliance to End Sexual Violence. Military Sexual Assault. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.endsexualviolence.org/where_we_stand/military-sexual-assaul…
- Battered Women's Justice Project. Military Sexual Assault. (n.d.) Retrieved from https://www.bwjp.org/our-work/topics/military-sexual-assult.html.