Risk of Sexual Assault in U.S. Army Varies Widely Across Bases, Units, and Occupational Specialties

Risk of sexual assault and sexual harassment in the U.S. Army varies widely—particularly for female soldiers—across different Army bases, commands, and career fields, finds new research from the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation.

According to the report, conducted for the Army Resilience Directorate (ARD), female soldiers stationed at Fort Hood and Fort Bliss face the highest sexual assault risk, with the risk to those at Fort Hood nearly a third higher than the average risk faced by all women in the Army. Along with Fort Riley, Fort Campbell, and Fort Carson, these bases account for 34% of the active-duty Army women who were sexually assaulted in 2018.

“Even when adjusted for personal characteristics typically associated with higher sexual assault risk, the report finds that women at Fort Hood still face a greater risk of sexual assault than if they were stationed elsewhere,” said Miriam Matthews, lead author of the report and a senior behavioral and social scientist at RAND. “Understanding this and other organizational risk factors is critical as it can help the Army better tailor its efforts to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment.”

Risk levels also vary significantly by command, even at the same installation. For example, most of the highest-risk commands are combat commands, several of which are located at Fort Hood and Fort Bliss. However, not all the commands at Fort Hood see similar elevated risks, as the First Army Division West, one of the lowest-risk commands, is also at Fort Hood.

And risk levels vary by career field, with those in medical or personnel occupations seeing the lowest risk and women in field artillery positions facing the highest risk. Additional factors such as unit climate, supervisor climate, and deployment levels are associated with risk levels. Positive unit and supervisor climates are linked to lower sexual assault risk, while a high deployment tempo is associated with an increased risk, according to the report.

“These findings provide the Army with increased visibility on where exactly risk is consistently high for sexual assault and sexual harassment,” said Dr. Jenna Newman, social science advisor at ARD and the Army’s project lead for the study. “It suggests there are location-specific concerns that require targeted interventions into climate and culture and will require additional research to understand.”

Sexual harassment is more common than sexual assault in the Army, but the authors note a strong correlation. “Installations with a higher risk for sexual harassment also demonstrate a higher risk for sexual assault and vice-versa,” Matthews said. “This suggests a shared set of risk factors between the two.”

It also underscores the importance of the sexual violence continuum of harm. “When sexual harassing behaviors go unchecked, it sends a message that certain kinds of behavior are acceptable and that more egregious acts are also not likely to be held accountable,” Newman said.

Additionally, the report notes considerable stability in sexual assault and sexual harassment risk among groups of soldiers over time. Thus, commanders of units that had elevated sexual assault risk in the past should expect that current risk levels will still be high.

“The Army is committed to learning as much as possible about individual and organizational factors that contribute to risk of sexual assault and other harmful behaviors,” said Dr. James A. Helis, director of the ARD. “This study sheds light on the environmental and occupational factors that contribute to the risk of sexual assault and sexual harassment for our soldiers and, in turn, will help inform future prevention and response efforts.”

The authors recommend targeting prevention programs to those locations, commands, or career fields with high risk levels. Improving workplace climate and sharing sexual assault data with commanders could also help mitigate risk; the Army currently has an effort underway to provide commanders with installation and unit risk reports based on the findings from this study.

This study was commissioned by the ARD and conducted by the RAND Arroyo Center using data from the 2016 and 2018 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Personnel (WGRA) and the 2014 RAND Military Workplace Study (RMWS).

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