Rape and sexual assault can have devastating consequences, from intrusive flashbacks to chronic anxiety and depression. Sexual assault remains common, particularly in the U.S. military, where 5% of women and 1% of men say they have been sexually assaulted. Psychotherapy can work wonders for those recovering from sexual assault, but a new study suggests that few military sexual assault survivors seek the help they deserve.
Most Military Sexual Assault Survivors Don’t Get Treatment
Researchers surveyed 1,339 current and former servicewomen about their experiences with sexual assault in the military. Among the respondents, 207 women—or about 15%—reported experiences with sexual assault. Only about a third sought health care related to the assault, and only four respondents sought both medical and mental health care within six months of the assault.
The study’s authors point out that women who survive sexual assaults are vulnerable to a host of mental and physical health problems, including depression, substance abuse, chronic pain, gastrointestinal and gynecologic difficulties, and sexual issues. Yet respondents consistently said they were either embarrassed to seek care or thought they didn’t need it. They also expressed concerns about privacy, and worried that seeking care could compromise their careers.
Why Don’t Sexual Assault Survivors Seek Help?
Sexual assault survivors face a culture that often fails to take rape seriously. From blaming victims to claims that women manufacture claims about rape, myths about sexual assault continue to harm survivors. In the military, sexual assault survivors may face even more challenges. Many survivors face thwarted careers or retaliation. A 2014 report by the Pentagon, for instance, found that 62% of military sexual assault survivors experienced some form of retaliation. Thirty-five percent reported an administrative penalty, with 32% reporting professional retaliation.
Lisa Danylchuk, MEd, LMFT, E-RYT, a therapist who practices in Oakland, California, said many rape and sexual assault survivors worry about the consequences of reporting an assault.
“It is common for sexual assault victims to feel a sense of responsibility and shame when assaulted,” Danylchuk said. “It is typically more challenging for minority groups, like women in the military, to speak up and feel they will be supported in the dominant culture, which can add to the experience of isolation. If a woman does not have support from those with higher rank, is being assaulted by those with more power in the system, or perceives reporting will threaten her own ability to progress, she may elect to remain silent, even if it threatens her physical, mental, or emotional well-being.”
- Dotinga, R. (2015, May 1). Few military women seek care after sexual assault: Study. Retrieved from http://health.usnews.com/health-news/articles/2015/05/01/few-military-women-seek-care-after-sexual-assault-study
- Kime, P. (2014, December 5). Incidents of rape in military much higher than previously reported. Retrieved from http://www.militarytimes.com/story/military/pentagon/2014/12/04/pentagon-rand-sexual-assault-reports/19883155/
- O’Toole, M. (2014, December 4). Retaliation against military victims of sexual assault still persists. Retrieved from http://www.defenseone.com/management/2014/12/retaliation-against-victims-military-sexual-assault-still-persists/100536/
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