HEALTH

Sexual Assault Of Military Men 15 Times Higher Than Thought

Study finds 17 percent of male vets experienced sexual assault in the military

Nov 03, 2015 at 5:57 PM ET

Editor’s note: The study on which this story is based has been retracted. The publisher of the American Psychological Association announced the decision on Sunday, noting that “other scholars have since examined the data and raised valid concerns regarding the design and statistical analysis, which compromise the findings.” One of the study’s authors told Retraction Watch that the paper relied on a statistical formula that has “been shown to be less reliable than more current methods.”

The percentage of men who are sexually assaulted while in the military could be more than 15 times greater than previously reported, according to new research. The startling discrepancy, researchers say, highlights the overwhelming stigma men feel around the issue.

The study set out to see whether more men would report sexual assault in the military if researchers offered them greater anonymity. It worked. Using a sample of 180 male combat veterans recruited online, they administered two different surveys: a traditional anonymous self-report and something called the unmatched count technique, which offers complete anonymity and is used to improve accurate reporting on sensitive subjects. The first found a rate of male sexual assault in the military of 1.1 percent, but the latter revealed a rate of 17.2 percent. This, they say, is proof that traditional anonymous reporting does not effectively erase the stigma around disclosure.

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Now, there are a few limitations to the study: the sample size is small and researchers were not able to verify the military status of respondents. Still, the researchers say the findings suggest that previous research on male sexual assault in the military “may substantially underestimate the true rate of this problem.” Rape of women in the military is the better known issue, but research has shown that roughly 50 percent of survivors of military sexual assault are men.

The study is published in a special issue of the journal Psychological Services, which features several other studies on sexual assault in the military. One study found that men who had experienced military sexual assault had more severe PTSD symptoms, greater depression, higher rates of suicidal thoughts and were more likely to seek outpatient mental health treatment. Another reviewed the research on male rape myths in the military—including “men don’t get raped” and “a man can’t be raped by a woman”—and concluded that these beliefs arise from broader cultural norms and “are further amplified and modified by military culture.”

Although men were given special attention, one study found that female veterans who were sexually assaulted are more likely to develop PTSD. As the issue’s co-editor, Michi Fu, said in a press release, “We know that there is under reporting among men and women and hope that this special issue will help to bring awareness and treatment for those that serve and protect us.”