Sexual Assault in the Military
last updated August 2013
Sexual assault within the military is a widespread form of violence against woman throughout the world. For example, a woman serving in the United States military in Iraq or Afghanistan is more likely to be raped by her fellow service members than killed in combat.[1]
Although most of the focus surrounding sexual assault within the military is currently centered on the United States this does not mean that sexual assault is an isolated problem within just the United States military. Because the prevalence of sexual assault in a military reflects poorly on the military and the country in which it occurs, incentives are high to conceal incidences or trends of sexual assault. This pressure contributes to the underreporting of sexual assaults by military officials and governments at large. As a result, international information on the issue is lacking. Although this website focuses heavily on sexual assault within the United States military, this is an international issue that deserves scrutiny from other countries around the globe. For international information on sexual assault in the military, please see the International Prevalence of Sexual Assault in the Military section of this website. For information on the United States, please see the Sexual Assault Within the United States Military section of this website.
Sexual assault in the military can be devastating in ways that are different from sexual assaults that occur in civilian society, especially in light of the deep trust between service members that must exist for a military to adequately function. For example, in the 2011 Mission Report to the United States by the Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women, Rashida Manjoo, a survivor of sexual assault in the military described the experience as “equivalent to a situation of incest in which victims face the trauma of being raped by a brother and then having to make the difficult choice of reporting the abuse to a father figure, who does not believe them.”[2]
Although both male and female service members face the threat of sexual assault in the military, women are statistically more likely to be victims and experience many obstacles to justice after a sexual assault has occurred. In particular, women in the military face social and professional retaliation for reporting instances of sexual assault. For a woman in the military, reporting a rape may cost that soldier her entire career. This secondary victimization sometimes feels just as bad as the original assault. Because of this, many cases of sexual assault against soldiers are not reported. For more information on victim blaming and retaliation, please see the Secondary Victimization of Female Soldiers section of this website.   
The military also differs from civilian society because of its hyper-masculine and hierarchical culture that values strength, power, and control. These factors create an environment where sexual assaults become a frequent occurrence as soldiers use sexual force as a means of exerting power against victims. Military culture also highly values discipline. Because sexual assault prosecutions occur exclusively within the military’s chain of command, many victims fear reporting sexual assaults for fear that they will themselves be disciplined for some kind of misconduct. The chain of command system also raises issues of impartiality. More information about the military justice system can be found on the Military Justice System section of this webpage.
Because of the complexity of the military system, many non-profit organizations exist to assist active and inactive service members with issues relating to sexual assault in the military. For a list of helpful organizations, please see the Resources section of this webpage.

[1] “Invisible No More: The Movement,”, last updated 2012,
[2]Special Rapporteur on violence against Women, its causes and consequences, Mission to the United States of America, U.N. Doc. A/HRC/17/26/Add.5, June 6, 2011,