The sexual assault and secondary victimization of female veterans: Help-seeking expereinces with military and civilian social systems

A sample of predominantly low-income, African American female veterans and reservists seeking health care in a Veterans' Administration medical clinic was screened for a history of sexual assault since age 18. Overall, 39% had been sexually assaulted in adulthood. Those who had been sexually victimized were asked to describe one assault incident in detail: 38% described an assault that occurred during military service and 62% described one that occurred before or after military service. This study also examined victims' postassault help-seeking experiences and the degree to which they encountered "secondary victimization" (i.e., victim-blaming behaviors and practices engaged in by legal and medical personnel, which exacerbates victims' trauma). Most victims who sought help from the legal or medical systems (military or civilian) reported that this contact made them feel guilty, depressed, anxious, distrustful of others, and reluctant to seek further help. Secondary victimization was significantly positively correlated with posttraumatic stress symptomatology
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Psychology of Women Quarterly
The study sample consisted of 268 primarily low income, African-American (77%) female veterans and reservists seeking medical care at a VA clinic. Out of 104 sexual assaults described, 38% occurred while a woman was in military service, and 82% of those were committed by a military peer or supervisor. Similar numbers of victims of military and non-military assault sought medical treatment after an attack. Although military medical providers engaged in fewer secondary victimization behaviors than non-military providers, victims were more likely to have negative feelings after treatment by military medical personnel. Military victims were more likely to have reported the assault to legal personnel (59%) than non-military victims (26%). Both groups experienced similar overall levels of legal secondary victimization. All victims who encountered any secondary victimization behaviors reported more post-traumatic stress symptoms. In light of the high prevalence rates, the researchers recommended that the VA expand services such as the Women Veterans' Comprehensive Health Centers to create environments where women can receive respectful and appropriate treatment.
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Disclosure; military; secondary victimization
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