High Rates of Sexual Trauma Evident in Female Veterans

Veteran standing in front of American flagA research report released in late October by the VA (Veteran’s Administration) states that 15% of military personnel who received some medical service from the VA suffered sexual trauma while in Iraq or Afghanistan, according to Reuters. The majority of those who screened positively for sexual trauma were women.  One in seven sought some form of VA service after leaving the military.

The VA documented that one percent of men discharged from the military reported sexual trauma. All VA medical service users are screened for sexual trauma. “Sexual trauma” is defined as psychological disturbance related to an unwanted sexual advance, including sexual assault and severe sexual harassment.

The study found that this group were one and one-half times more likely to require mental health treatment. The study was conducted at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System in California. Rachel Kimerling of the National Center for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder at the Palo Alto VA, noted that not only can sexual trauma result in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), but also in substance abuse, depression, and anxiety.

About 40% of men and women who left the military during the time period following Afghanistan and Iraq war duty sought medical services (of any type) from the VA. Kimerling is concerned that some discharged veterans may not know they can get effective treatment for sexual trauma through any VA medical center. This is important information for families of veterans, and psychotherapists, mental health counselors and medical professionals outside of the VA system, too.

Families can help their returned veterans get the treatment that might be needed. Mental health and medical practitioners can implement screening for sexual trauma. Professionals assisting veterans should be informed on the high-risk possibility of sexual trauma among female veterans of wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

© Copyright 2008 by Jolyn Wells-Moran, PhD, MSW. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Jerri G

    November 23rd, 2008 at 1:13 AM

    Wow! I had no idea this was happening. I think that too often women in the military are still marginalized and this makes me very angry. It is reports like this that would make me never want to encourage my own daughter to serve in the military. I consider us to be a very patriotic family but this is just too much of a risk to take with your family members lives. Yes I know there are other dangers to serving but to then have to add this too is simply unacceptable! There are people who are higher up who have to know that things like this are going on yet they still allow it to happen and too often the perps probably get away with it because it becomes a matter of he said she said. At this point in time I do not know that I would encourage any female that I know to serve. I am glad that there are counselors out there who are starting to get the full story and will hopefully be able to help many of these young women when they return home from duty.

  • Karen

    November 23rd, 2008 at 8:13 AM

    I can only imagine what this must be like for not only women for men who served in Iraq and had this sexual trauma. I am sure they see many things while over in Iraq and the trauma they have is more than the sexual trauma

  • Wendy

    November 23rd, 2008 at 8:15 AM

    I think that women and men need to seek therapy and treatment anytime they have been over in Iraq & Afghanistan. That is trauma in itself. Never would have thought that sexual trauma would be one of them.

  • Sydney

    November 23rd, 2008 at 6:56 PM

    A war is a very difficult situation to be in. To be able to serve inspite of emotional and sexual trauma is commendable. The govt. should make financial provision for medical and psychiatrical services for war veterans and for military cadets. Doesnt the military court have awareness of this problem. How would young men and women of this country come forward to serve if their dignity and identity is at risk??

  • Dr. Mic Hunter

    November 23rd, 2008 at 7:47 PM

    Thank you for bring this out in the open. I have been trying to get people to pay attention to this problem with little success. When I published “Honor Betrayed Sexual Abuse In America’s Military” I foolishly thought the media would think the abuse of veterans was important. Although I was interviewed the editors and producers told the reporters this topic “wasn’t news worthy.” So much for supporting our troops.

  • James K

    November 24th, 2008 at 4:44 AM

    What a shame. These women are going over there risking their lives and leaving behind families and who knows what else to go fight for their country and this is what they are subjected to. I am personally offended as both a husband of a military wife and as an American.

  • Melanie

    November 24th, 2008 at 6:45 PM

    there is no excuse or reason to soft peddle abusers in a military service. Criminal action should be taken on such offenders!

  • Jack

    November 26th, 2008 at 5:19 AM

    As a retired member of the military I am saddened to hear this. I hope that at least veterans benefits are helping to pay for the treatment those who have suffered from this type of abuse will obviously need when they get home. Unfortunately I will not be holding my breath for that one.

  • James

    November 27th, 2008 at 1:04 AM

    My sister is in the armed forces. She has seen a lot of trauma as she has served in afghanistan and africa. She has been a very private person from childhood. How do we identify symptoms of abuse if she has suffered any. Its not exactly something most people open up with or admit to.

  • Robbie

    November 28th, 2008 at 1:19 PM

    Disgusted is about the only word I can come up with when I read this. How could others in the military treat their sisters in arms this way?

  • Gloria

    November 29th, 2008 at 10:09 AM

    Hopefully this is not a part of the don’t ask don’t tell policy. . .

  • Paula

    November 30th, 2008 at 7:37 AM

    I grew up in a military home and know that the many superiors I had the honor to meet would never condone this type of behavior from their soldiers. I am sorry to hear that this is happening but I would be very surprised to hear if this is being covered up from the top. Many of the military men and women I have met over the years are some of the finest people that I know and it pains me to repeatedly hear those in the military all getting a bad name because of the actions of just a few. Yes they should be punished but that does not mean that everyone in the military deserves to be treated unkindly. These people choose to protect and serve our country for very little compensation and I think it is high time that we begin to award them with more respect and kindness than what we currently give. I know that there are women being harmed there and this is not right. But I also do not think it is right to talk trash about the entire military system.

  • Steve H

    December 7th, 2008 at 5:46 AM

    And this is why men constantly have a bad name!

  • Susan Platt

    January 30th, 2009 at 12:01 PM


    I am writing a paper essentially about this topic for college. I have no conception about these acts. Where do they take place? Do other male soldiers coverup these actions to protect their buddies? Where do soldiers have the privacy to have sex either wanted or unwanted? Thank you.


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