MUSC News Center
Survey finds 20,000 sexual assault victims in military
Helen Adams | MUSC News Center | December 4, 2014
A government-commissioned survey found that about 20,000 of the U.S. military’s 1.3 million active-duty members experienced one or more sexual assaults in the past year.
Dean Kilpatrick, Ph.D., director of the National Crime Victims Research & Treatment Center at the Medical University of South Carolina, helped create the survey. He’s a longtime expert on research on sexual assault and rape.
He said getting solid data is the starting point in being able to effect change.
Previous surveys were criticized for asking confusing questions. So for the 2014 survey, the Pentagon asked the independent RAND Corporation to step in. Kilpatrick joined RAND’s team to help ensure that the questions were clear. About 170,000 service members, or 30 percent of the 560,000 invited, answered questions for the RAND Military Workplace Study, one of the largest of its kind.
It found more than 4 percent of active-duty women and 1 percent of active-duty men were sexually assaulted during the past year. Only about a quarter of them reported the attacks, but that was an increase from the 2012 reporting rate of 10 percent.
The Pentagon released a statement: “The importance of this upward trend in reporting cannot be overstated.”
The survey also showed the complexity involved in the decision to report an assault. It found 62 percent of women who reported unwanted sexual contact felt social retaliation from peers or co-workers.
The survey also provided a big-picture view of how sexual assault affects different branches of the military. The Air Force has the lowest rate. The Marines and Navy have the highest.
Kilpatrick, a professor and vice-chairman for research in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at MUSC, helped formulate survey questions and served on the scientific advisory board for the RAND team.
“You have to take the legal elements of sexual assault crimes and translate them into understandable English so people can understand what you’re talking about,” Kilpatrick said.
The president asked for a preliminary report by the first of December. Kilpatrick said his team worked quickly but carefully.
“The most important thing was everybody wanted to get it right,” Kilpatrick said.
He thinks they did.
“I’m very pleased with the product,” Kilpatrick said. “Lord knows when you do research in an area that has such incredible political and public policy interest, it’s different than doing other kind of research.”
Now that the results are out, the analysis will shift to the reasons behind the findings. Kilpatrick said people can “cherry-pick” the numbers, but the survey provides a solid foundation that everyone can return to.
“Data to some degree, especially if you present them in a balanced way, keeps us honest. I get some respect for being a good scientist and being careful and not over-interpreting things. I’m opinionated too, but it’s the data that keep you honest.”
Kilpatrick said he’s proud and honored to have been included on the military sexual assault research team. “There’s probably a handful of people who would be considered experts in sexual assault in the country and a poor country boy from MUSC is one of them.”
For the complete Pentagon report on sexual assault in the military, visit the RAND website at this link.