The rate of sexual assault among female veterans is high, and the criminal act has pronounced associations with infertility, abortion, and childlessness.
In confirming the established high exposure of sexual assault among female veterans, a recent survey also identified a pronounced association between sexual assault and infertility, abortion, and delayed or voluntary childlessness.
- Female veterans who have been sexually assaulted are more likely to experience infertility, abortion, voluntary childlessness, and delayed pregnancy.
- Higher levels of sexually transmitted disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and postpartum dysphoria were noted among female veterans who had been sexually assaulted during their lifetime.
- Nearly two thirds (62%) of female veterans have experienced an actual or an attempted sexual assault.
Of 1,000 female veterans interviewed, 62% said they had been sexually assaulted or someone had attempted to sexually assault them in their lifetime. Among those reporting an assault, or attempted assault, 31% acknowledge that they had terminated a pregnancy, compared with 19% who had not been exposed to sexual assault, researchers reported in the American Society for Reproductive Medicine’s journal Fertility and Sterility.
Besides documenting the association between sexual assault and abortion, the survey results revealed 23% of those exposed to assault experienced infertility (vs 12% among those without a history of assault). Sexually assaulted female veterans also were more likely to have a sexually transmitted disease (42% vs 27%), post-traumatic stress disorder (32% vs 10%), and postpartum dysphoria (62% vs 44%).“The degree to which women serving in our military are exposed to sexual assault is extremely disturbing,” said ASRM President Rebecca Sokol, MD, MPH, in a press release. “Changes must be made in the culture to make it completely unacceptable to assault one's fellow soldier. And as the proportion of women veterans increases, the VA needs to increase the availability of medical resources supporting women's health. Reproductive health care is essential for female veterans; they need and deserve access to the best.”
Just 33% of the reported sexual assaults occurred during military service, the researchers noted, emphasizing that they took into account lifetime sexual assault exposure and included women who reported incidences during childhood, adulthood prior to entering the military, and post-military service. Still, many of the women had been sexually assaulted during more than one period of their lives.
Female veterans between ages 20 and 52 years who were enrolled at one of two Midwestern Veteran's Affairs Medical Centers or outlying VA clinics in Iowa and Kansas were interviewed for the survey.