Gender-Based Violence

The U.S. Department of Defense estimated in 2018 that some 20,500 members of the U.S. military had experienced unwanted sexual contact. While women make up only about 20 percent of the military, they are the victims of 63 percent of sexual assaults; overall one out of every 16 military women “reported being groped, raped, or otherwise sexually assaulted within the last year” (Philipps, 2019). The overwhelming majority of perpetrators are reported to be male.

Hunter (cited in Turchik & Wilson, 2010) identified a number of elements of military culture that may promote sexual violence, including:

sexualized and violent language, the general acceptance of violence, the learned ability to objectify other people, strong obedience to the chain of command, encouraged protection of the military, and the promoted belief that those outside the military will not understand what goes on within the military.

The latest results, while bad, are not the worst in recent years. Assaults rates were higher in 2006 and 2012. The Pentagon, however, has “poured hundreds of millions of dollars into prevention efforts,” apparently to little effect (Philipps, 2019). The report noted “that the latest data suggests current strategies are not enough” (Philipps, 2019).

Efforts to introduce legislation to create an independent prosecutor to deal with sexual assault in the military have languished because the military has lobbied against what they see as an erosion of commanders’ authority.


Philipps, D. (2019, May 2). ‘This Is Unacceptable.’ Military Reports a Surge of Sexual Assaults in the Ranks. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Turchik, J. A., & Wilson, S. M. (2010). Sexual assault in the U.S. military: A review of the literature and recommendations for the future. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 15(4), 267-277.