WRITER: MEGHAN NEARY
CONTACT: DAVE PEDERSEN
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 335-8032; fax (319) 384-4638
Release: April 30, 2001
UI, VAMC researchers study workplace violence against military women
IOWA CITY, Iowa -- Factors within the military workplace environment are
significantly associated with the risk of non-fatal physical and sexual assault
toward women in the armed forces, according to a study by University of Iowa
and Iowa City Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) researchers.
The study, involving more than 500 female veterans, finds that environmental
factors such as the behavior of superior officers may promote violence toward
women and were highly associated with whether or not women in the military
were assaulted during their time of service.
"With more than one-half million females serving in the U.S. Department
of Defense, military women are an important population from which to learn
more about women in the workplace and the consequences of violence,"
said Anne Sadler, Ph.D., a registered nurse and researcher at the Iowa City
VAMC who designed and headed the study. The results were published in the
April issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.
Bradley Doebbeling, M.D., UI associate professor of internal medicine and
epidemiology, and a staff physician and researcher at the Iowa City VAMC,
said the environmental risk factors for assault found in this study seem to
be comparable to risk factors in non-military settings.
"This suggests that if harassment is allowed in the workplace, it predisposes
women in those environments to assault," said Doebbeling, a co-author
of the study. He hopes the study findings will help create interventions in
both military and non-military work settings to lower the number of assault
The UI and VAMC researchers interviewed 537 women veterans nationwide who
served in the Vietnam, post-Vietnam and Persian Gulf War eras. These women
were selected from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs comprehensive women's
health care registries. Participants completed an extensive structured interview
to determine socioeconomic and environmental factors associated with victimization
and its consequences while in the military. Researchers used the Women's Military
Environment Survey, developed and piloted during this study, to obtain information
on occurrence of violence while in the military, work and leisure environments,
officer conduct toward women, work performance, and health care access.
The researchers found that 79 percent of the participants reported experiences
of sexual harassment during their military service. Fifty-four percent reported
unwanted sexual contact, and 21 percent reported physical violence solely
within the context of rape. Thirty-six percent of respondents reported threatened
or completed physical assault (30 percent completed), with 23 percent of those
women reporting physical assault outside the context of rape or domestic violence.
Fifty-nine percent of those who reported having been physically assaulted
reported at least two occurrences; some women reported as many as 20 such
Environmental risk factors related to violence towards women were present
in both on-duty and off-duty base settings. Women who worked in environments
where sexual harassment occurred were five times more likely to be physically
The behavior of ranking officers was associated with women's frequency of
physical assault. Women working with ranking officers who made sexually demeaning
comments, or allowed such behavior, were three times more likely to be victims
of physical assault.
Women who stayed in mixed-gender barracks and experienced unwanted sexual
advances, remarks or pressure for dates from men in their sleeping quarters
were found to be almost seven times more likely to be physically assaulted.
In absence of harassment, mixed-gender quarters were not a significant risk
"The noticeable thing about the results is that physical assault occurs
in the workplace in both military and non-military settings," Doebbeling
said. "It is important to identify the factors within the work environment
associated with frequency of assault so they may be modified or prevented
to decrease the probability of future incidences from occurring."
Another research study by Sadler and Doebbeling, published in the September
2000 issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology, found unique health-related
effects of workplace physical and/or sexual assault that could influence reasons
why female veterans seek health care. For example, women who were both physically
and sexually assaulted during their military service were more likely to report
chronic health problems and use of prescription drugs for mental health problems.
The Obstetrics and Gynecology study found that women who were physically
assaulted during their military service reported current problems with physical
health, while women who experienced rape or dual victimization (rape and physical
assault) evaluated both their physical and mental health as poor. Women who
experienced dual victimization reported the poorest health status, similar
to that of women with a major medical illness.
"The study published in Obstetrics and Gynecology demonstrates that
violence towards women has long-lasting and profound effects on women's physical
and emotional health. Hopefully, this information will encourage health care
providers to routinely screen female patients for histories of both physical
and sexual violence," Sadler said.
The research for both published studies was funded by a grant from the federal
Department of Army Medical Research.