Few Military Women Seek Help for Sexual Assault, Study Finds

military womanRape 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.”

The Service Women’s Action Network offers support to women in the military who have experienced assault, discrimination, or harassment.


  1. 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
  2. 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/
  3. 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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  • tee


    May 7th, 2015 at 10:52 AM

    because they are scared of the good old boy system that still pervades the military world!

  • Justiceday


    May 7th, 2015 at 2:05 PM

    Why do none of the studies talk about the civilians the US military rapes!

  • Ella


    May 7th, 2015 at 4:05 PM

    I would think that a lot of this has to do with overall culture of the military, where you feel like you have to be tough and take whatever is dealt to to you. I wish that this was not true for these victims of sexual assault but they could be afraid of retaliation, being demoted, not getting that coveted job, being punished in some way that is not going to be good for their long term military career goals. It is sad that they might feel this way but I think that the lesson of don’t ask don’t tell has been ingrained in many different areas of the military.

  • shelbie


    May 8th, 2015 at 8:36 AM

    There actually are a lot of avenues for you to purse if this has happened to you, but that does nothing to get rid of that fear that you still feel about having to report someone who is either equal to you or a higher rank.

    You don’t even know how damaging this can be to your psyche not to mention your career. I think that there are honestly some who would rather deal with it silently and not have to worry about any repercussions that they could face if they did report something like this.

  • Starr


    May 9th, 2015 at 5:16 PM

    Blaming the woman when it is so far from being her fault is one of the most terrible things that someone could ever do. Who would ever ask to attacked and assaulted in this manner?

  • RitaG


    May 11th, 2015 at 3:38 AM

    As a whole I think that most women, no matter the background, are afraid of being labeled something ugly and in some cases they are afraid of what could happen to them personally and even professionally if and when they do decide to speak up. It is a horrible choice to have to make but I think that many women have seen the fact that many times their claims are not taken seriously and therefore they would rather say nothing than to risk doing harm to their reputation.

  • thomas


    May 11th, 2015 at 10:30 AM

    What about military men who have been sexually assaulted?

    I would have to bet that those numbers are even lower.

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