Sexual Trauma Affects Many Women Veterans

A new study presented yesterday to the American Public Health Association has found that one in seven women military veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts seeking Veterans’ Administration (VA) medical care report having experienced sexual trauma during their service.

Researchers at the VA Palo Alto Health Care System’s National Center for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder also found that men and women veterans who reported sexual trauma, such as rape or threatened sexual harassment, were three times more likely to be diagnosed with a mental condition than those who did not report sexual trauma. These conditions included depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety disorders, adjustment disorders and substance-abuse disorders.

The researchers involved in the study examined health-care screening data from more than 100,000 veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan who utilized medical care at any VA health facility over a six-year period. Fifteen percent of women and 0.7 percent of men reported having experienced sexual trauma during their service in the military. Of the women veterans who reported sexual trauma, 76 percent were diagnosed with a mental condition, compared to 47 percent of other women veterans.

This is the first study to focus on the link between sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder in Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. In an interview with Ms., Dr. Rachel Kimerling, one of the researchers behind the study, pointed out that it highlights the need for gender-informed and gender-specific healthcare to help combat the stigma associated with rape and sexual harassment.


Press release from American Public Health Association (APHA), 10/28/08; APHA abstract submission from authors; The Washington Post 10/28/08; Ms. interview with Drs. Rachel Kimerling and Joanne Pavao 10/28/08

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