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University of Iowa News Release

March 11, 2003

UI, VAMC Researchers Study Women's Risk Of Rape In Military

Violence towards women in the military has identifiable risk factors, according to a study by Iowa City Veterans Affairs Medical Center (VAMC) and University of Iowa researchers.

The study, involving more than 500 female veterans, found that workplace factors, such as the behavior of superiors, were highly associated with military women's risk of sexual assault during their military service.

"While violence towards working women is commonplace, surprisingly little is known about predictors of workplace sexual violence," said Anne Sadler, Ph.D., a researcher at the Iowa City VAMC who led the study. "Our findings suggest that if sexual harassment is allowed in the workplace, women in those environments have a significantly increased risk of being raped."

Sadler conducted the study with Brenda Booth, Ph.D., a former UI and Iowa City VAMC researcher now at the University of Arkansas and VAMC in Little Rock; Brian Cook, D.O., UI professor of psychiatry; and Bradley Doebbeling, M.D., UI professor of internal medicine, and epidemiology. Cook and Doebbeling are also researchers and staff physicians at the Iowa City VAMC.

The study results appear in the March issue of the American Journal of Industrial Medicine.

The researchers interviewed a nationwide sample of 556 female veterans who served in the Vietnam, post-Vietnam and Persian Gulf War eras. The 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 the characteristics of rape victims and perpetrators, as well as environmental factors associated with rape occurring during military service.

The researchers found that 79 percent of participants reported experiences of sexual harassment during their military service; 30 percent of the women reported an attempted or completed rape.

Risk factors related to violence towards military women were present in both on-duty and off-duty base settings. Assailant alcohol and/or drug use at the time of rape was notable.

Women who experienced unwanted sexual advances or sexual remarks when they were on-duty or in their sleeping quarters were approximately four times more likely to be raped. In the absence of harassment, the issue of mixed-gender sleeping quarters was not a significant risk factor.

"Our findings were consistent with research in civilian populations demonstrating that younger women entering male-dominated work groups at lower levels of authority are those most likely to be harassed," Sadler said.

The behavior of superiors was associated with women's frequency of rape. Women working with superiors who made sexually demeaning comments or allowed such behavior were found to have a nearly four-fold risk of rape while in the military.

The researchers noted that superiors' conduct could also promote a healthy work environment for women, and interventions should focus on training and supervision of leaders and greater oversight and accountability for behaviors in the day-to-day military workplace and barracks.

The researchers hope the study findings will help create interventions and policies to increase the safety of women in the workplace.

"Given that the rates of rape were consistent from all eras of military service among the women we interviewed, this issue remains an unresolved health concern," Sadler said.

The Department of Army Medical Research of the U.S. Department of Defense funded the study.

STORY SOURCE: University of Iowa Health Science Relations, 5135 Westlawn, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1178

CONTACT(S): UI: David Pedersen, (319) 335-8032, david-pedersen@uiowa.edu . Iowa City VAMC: Kirt Sickels, (319) 339-7104, kirt.sickels@med.va.gov.