Women assaulted in military suffer depression, alcohol problems

October 30, 1999

One in four female outpatients of Veterans Affairs medical facilities may have been sexually assaulted during her tour of duty, according to a national survey. Depression and alcohol problems plague these veterans.

"The presence and magnitude of military-related sexual assault may be an issue not only of military and social concern, but also of importance to health care institutions and providers," said Cheryl Hankin, Ph.D., U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development, Centers of Excellence at Bedford, Massachusetts and Palo Alto, California.

Outpatients from many of the nation's 172 VA hospitals took part in the study. Mailed questionnaires were completed by 3,632 women, who comprised 56 percent of a randomly identified sample of female VA patients. Twenty-three percent answered 'yes' to the question: "Did you ever have an experience where someone used force or the threat of force to have sexual relations with you against your will while you were in the military?"

Those responding affirmatively were significantly younger (42.6 versus 48.8 years), served longer on active duty (6.5 versus 5.2 years), and were likelier to be enlisted than those who responded in the negative.

Veterans who reported having been assaulted were three times likelier to experience symptoms of depression and twice as likely to have problems with alcohol. Sixty percent had significant symptoms of depression, and 7 percent reported current problems with alcohol. Of veterans who reported having been assaulted and who suffered symptoms of depression, half had received recent mental health treatment, as had 40 percent of assault victims who had problems with alcohol. The results of the study appear in the October issue of the Journal of Traumatic Stress.

Hankin cautioned that this study's findings do not reflect sexual assault incidence within the active military as a whole.

"Given recent notoriety regarding cases of sexual assault of women in the U.S. Armed Forces, the extent and impact demand further investigation," said Hankin. The study was funded by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Health Services Research and Development Service.
The Journal of Traumatic Stress is the peer-reviewed journal of the International Society of Traumatic Stress Studies. For information about the journal, contact Dean Kilpatrick, Ph.D., 843-792-2945.

Posted by the Center for the Advancement of Health http://www.cfah.org. For information about the Center, call Petrina Chong, pchong@cfah.org 202-387-2829.

Center for Advancing Health

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