Naval Health Research Center Awarded First Grant to Examine Gender in Military Sexual Assault

Story Number: NNS140702-15Release Date: 7/2/2014 1:50:00 PM
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By Anna Hancock, Naval Health Research Center Public Affairs

SAN DIEGO (NNS) -- A research team from Naval Health Research Center (NHRC) was awarded a grant to examine the gender differences in experiences of military sexual assault victimization, June 23.

This project marks one of the first tri-service efforts to create a scientific knowledge base for the sexual assault experiences of men in the military. Led by NHRC's Consortium on the Health and Readiness of Servicewomen (CHARS) and funded by the Tri-Service Nursing Research Program (TSNRP), it also marks the first project led by the CHARS initiative and first grant awarded to NHRC from TSNRP.

Most importantly, it marks the beginning of what the team hopes will be an informative study.

"Experts in the field, in both the military and civilian populations designed interventions, training, and medical care based on the scenario that the perpetrator was a male and the victim was a female," explained Dr. Cynthia Thomsen, a research psychologist and associate investigator for the project. "However, the little information available suggests there are probably some very important differences between what's happening to male and female victims."

The problem, the team agrees, is that significant research hasn't been done on the role gender plays in victimization. The team views this as an opportunity to expand the knowledge base.

"We're interested in the differences in the assaults that male and female service members experience, as well as differences in how they interpret or describe those experiences," noted Thomsen.

The DoD Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military estimates that 14,000 men and 12,000 women were victims of unwanted sexual contact among active duty forces in fiscal year 2012. Moreover, the results from the 2012 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members show that victimization experiences of men and women seem to be different.

Stephanie McWhorter, Chair of the Consortium on the Health and Readiness of Servicewomen (CHARS) and associate investigator for the project, highlighted the expertise that CHARS brings to the effort. McWhorter explained that the members of CHARS have different areas of expertise, but what they have in common is their interest in whether military service is different for men and women and if so, how.

"We acknowledge gender conditions people's experiences in the military," noted McWhorter. "And without looking at both genders, it's hard to make sense of what unique issues confront each of them."

The team planned a three-phased approach to the project starting with secondary analysis of existing data. They also plan to collaborate with the experts on military sexual assault from the Army, Air Force and Navy, including those who work directly with victims and experts from the Department of Veterans Affairs.

"We train nurses, therapists, advocates, and a host of other military personnel to assist victims of sexual assault and we want their expertise and experiences," explained Capt. Jacqueline Rychnovsky, the project's principal investigator and NHRC's commanding officer. "This also ties in why receiving funding from TSNRP is a good fit. Nurses are often on the front lines interacting with the victims when trust and timing is critical."

Phase two involves a brief, anonymous internet survey about challenging workplace relationships and phase three is where the team will conduct in depth interviews with a voluntary group of male and female military service members.

The team anticipates the study will conclude in 2016.

"Our research is timely and it may have implications for sexual assault treatment or training," noted Thomsen. "But we know additional research will be needed -- this is only the beginning. At the very least, we hope this will give us a better understanding of the parameters of what male victims of sexual assault go through."

As the DoD's premier deployment health research center, NHRC's cutting-edge research and development is used to optimize the operational health and readiness of the nations armed forces. Within close proximity to more than 95,000 uniformed service members, world-class universities, and industry partners, NHRC's expert team sets the standards in joint ventures, innovation, and practical application.

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