Sexual Assault/Sexual Harassment in the Military

5,350 service members made a report of sexual assault in fiscal year 2015
DoD Safe Helpline - Sexual Assault Support for the DoD Community Call the Safe Helpline at 877-995-5247A In immediate danger? Call 911 inside the U.S.

Sexual assault and sexual harassment are significant issues in the United States. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in five women and one in 71 men will be sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. [ Reference 1 ] In DoD, there were 6,083 reports of sexual assault involving service members in fiscal year 2015. [ Reference 2 ] Females made 80 percent of the reports and men made 19 percent (1 percent missing data). Approximately 8 percent of the reports were for incidents that occurred before the service member entered into military service. [ Reference 3 ] There were 657 formal complaints of sexual harassment in the DoD in fiscal year 2015.[ Reference 4 ]

There are key differences between sexual assault and sexual harassment :

Sexual Assault
  • Always involves physical contact
  • Behavior may or may not occur in the work environment of involve co-workers
  • SAPRO is the DoD agency responsible for prevention and responce; law enforcement is involved in unrestricted reports. Unrestricted reports must always be reported to the Military Criminal Investigation Office
Sexual Harassment
  • Often involves nonphysical contact, but may include physical contact
  • Behavior is linked directly to co-workers or others in the work environment
  • Military Equal Opportunity/Equal Employment Opportunity (MEO/EEO) is the DoD agency responsible for prevention and investigation; law enforcement is typically not involved. Investigations are usually through command directed investigation procedures

Sexual assault in both males and females may result in the following problems: [ Reference 5 ]

  • Posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Depression
  • Anxiety and social phobias
  • Alcohol or other substance use disorder
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Self-harm behavior

Healthy coping strategies are essential to recovering from the trauma of a sexual assault:

  • Maintain a sleep schedule that provides a sufficient amount of sleep
  • Keep crisis hotlines and resource information handy in case of an emergency
  • Reach out to friends, family and/or fellow service members to express feelings and receive support
  • Refrain from alcohol use, especially if used to calm nerves, relax or try to forget about the incident
  • Engage in aerobic exercise and enjoyable activities or hobbies to help reduce upsetting symptoms
  • Seek care from a professional if psychological health symptoms persist and impact daily life

The DoD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) serves as the single point of authority for program accountability and oversight to enable military readiness and reduce, with a goal to eliminate, sexual assault from the military. The SAPRO website contains helpful information related to sexual assault including fact sheets on:

DoD has multiple ongoing efforts to address the issue of sexual assault and the supports needed for victims as well as those accused of sexual assault, including collaborative work groups across the services and DoD to examine gaps and provide recommendations to improve the health care response, a work group to take action regarding male sexual assault, and several research studies.

The Deployment Health Clinical Center (DHCC) serves as the lead of the Sexual Assault Advisory Group (SAAG) of the Psychological Health Council. Established in 2013, this group addresses the issue of sexual assault in the services and in particular, the health care response to sexual assault and sexual harassment. DHCC is the sexual assault expert point of contact for the Defense Health Agency National Capital Region.