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Women and Gays in the Military

Women in the MilitaryAccording to a report from the Department of Defense, 30 percent of women enrolled in the U.S. military are victims of rape, 71 percent of women become victims of a sexual assault, and 90 percent are sexually harassed.1 Victims of sexual assault suffer physically, socially, and mentally—sexual violence in the military is the leading cause of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in female veterans.2 As the number of women joining the military continues to grow, branches of the armed forces are improving reporting systems and counseling services for victims of sexual assault. If you are considering joining the military, consider these resources:

  • Department of Veterans Affairs recognizes military sexual trauma as part of its mental health program. The center provides free care to those experiencing the psychological effects of sexual assault.
  • RAINN (Rape, Abuse, and Incest National Network) provides a confidential helpline for crisis intervention, emotional support, and advice to victims of sexual assault. Victims can call toll-free (877-995-5247) or go to the website
  • The Sexual Harassment Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) Program works to prevent sexual violence in the military and promote of culture of respect among military men and women.
Disturbing Facts
  • 30 percent of women enrolled in the U.S. military are victims of rape.
  • 71 percent of women become victims of a sexual assault.
  • 90 percent are sexually harassed.3

Women are at a higher risk for sexual assault during deployment. Nearly half of women deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan have reported being sexually assaulted.4 Men and women in the military are put under intense stress. They spend long bouts of time away from friends and family, are put in dangerous situations, have limited (if any) privacy, and put their bodies through harsh training and sleep deprivation. Intense stress can lead to violent outbursts and increase chances of sexual assault. To help prevent sexual assault and harassment in the military and while deployed, do the following:

  • Always report any unauthorized males or females in sleeping areas.
  • Stay alert and aware of your surroundings.
  • Be assertive and clearly state if someone is making you feel uncomfortable.
  • Don’t change clothes in front of a window.
  • Always use the buddy system.

In 2010, Congress repealed the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, which prevented gay, lesbian, and bisexual service members from serving openly in the military. Sexual orientation is no longer grounds for dismissal from the military. However, it’s still unclear whether gay and lesbian veterans will receive spousal benefits if they do not reside in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage. And transgender Americans are still prohibited from serving in any capacity.

1 Department of Defense, SAPRO. (2012). “Fiscal Year 2011 Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military.” Available:​Department_of_Defense_Fiscal_Year_2011_Annual_Report_on_Sexual_Assault_in_the_Military.pdf.

2 Kang, H., Dalager, N., Mahan, C., and Ishii E. “The Role of Sexual Assault on the Risk of PTSSD Among Gulf War Veterans.” Annals of Epidemiology 15 (2005): 191–5.

3 Source: Department of Defense.

4 Veteran’s Health Administration, U.S. Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Improving Veteran’s Lives, p 53. Washington, DC, 2012.

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