The number of women who serve in the military and engage in combat is at an all-time high. The serious negative psychological consequences of being exposed to combat situations are well documented in male and female veterans. Those who return from war zones are at increased risk for many mental health problems, including posttraumatic stress, depression, substance abuse, anxiety, and intimate partner aggression. Although there have been many studies that have shown links between combat service and aggression in intimate relationships, few studies have examined how psychological problems resulting from combat influence this behavior in male and female veterans independently. Additionally, until now, there has been little research examining how childhood traumas combined with combat outcome affects the potential for a veteran to engage in aggressive behaviors. In order to address this gap, Lissa Dutra of the Women’s Health Sciences Division of the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Massachusetts led a study that looked specifically at female veteran aggression and if specific mental health conditions predicted that behavior.
Dutra and her colleagues assessed the level of psychological and physical intimate partner aggression in female veterans by looking at combat experience, rates of aggression by the veteran and the partner, mental health issues, and childhood traumas. Of the 89 veterans in her study, Dutra found that female veterans and their male partners engaged in psychological aggression, but the female veterans were more likely to be physically aggressive toward their partners than the males. Specifically, nearly one-fourth of the female veterans had admitted to being physically aggressive, even though less than half of those veterans’ partners had been physically aggressive toward them. Dutra also found that among all of the mental health issues examined in her study, only depression was directly related to intimate partner aggression. Dutra believes it is imperative, during a time in which more women are being exposed to wartime combat, to continue research in this area, with more studies aimed at identifying predictors of physical aggression. She added, “Such studies can be employed to help determine the generalizability of the present findings to new veteran cohorts, as well as to assist in the development of assessment, prevention, and intervention efforts targeting intimate partner aggression for both female and male veterans.”
Dutra, L., de Blank, G., Scheiderer, E., Taft, C. (2012, January 23). Correlates of Female Veterans’ Perpetration of Relationship Aggression. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0026849
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