Sexual Safety of Women in the Military Reserve: Perceptions of Threats and Support

Wednesday, 24 July 2013

Roxanne M. Arndt, PhD
School of Nursing, Wayland Baptist University, San Antonio, TX

Learning Objective 1: The learner will be able to discuss current research on the health, economics, and social concerns related to violence against women in the military

Learning Objective 2: The learner will be able to identify perceived threats military women have to their sexual safety

Purpose: The purpose of this qualitative study was to explore perceptions reserve military women have about threats to their sexual safety and the support that they perceive is available to them should they choose to report to a sexual assault or harassment  

Methods: Descriptive phenomenology provided the philosophical underpinning for this study.  Military women represent a group at risk for victimization during their service. Sexual violence within the ranks of the military is a systemic problem. Personal safety is a significant occupational health issue for women in the military. Participants were United States Military women from a variety of military ranks with varied experiences throughout their careers  (n=16). Data was collected using digitally recorded semi-structured interviews. Data was analyzed using Colazzi’s six-step method of data analysis.  

Results: The overarching theme for the study was: military environments differ from civilian environments resulting in military women experiencing a greater sense of risk to their sexual safety and finding it more difficult to get support when they are assaulted or harassed. Four themes supported the overarching theme, military women are vulnerable, men may not follow civilian rules of behavior, the military handles complaints of harassment and sexual assault differently than the civilian work environment, and leaders may be barriers to women experiencing support. Each theme had one or more subthemes.  

Conclusion: Study findings identify that women do not feel safe in many situations and they do not feel that military does much to address those feelings. Women also feel that their male counterparts sometimes do not treat them equal and with respect. The current way sexual assault and harassment is handled by the military, victims lack trust in the system which prevents the victims from seeking support.