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Sadler AG, Cheney AM, Mengeling MA, Booth BM, Torner JC, Young LB. Servicemen's Perceptions of Male Sexual Assault and Barriers to Reporting During Active Component and Reserve/National Guard Military Service. Journal of interpersonal violence. 2021 Apr 1; 36(7-8):NP3596-NP3623.
Despite growing recognition of the high rates of sexual violence experienced by men serving in the U.S. military, male victimization, specifically sexual assault in military (SAIM), is an understudied topic. We qualitatively describe servicemen's awareness and perceptions of male SAIM, and their understanding of common barriers to servicemen reporting sexual assault. Participants included Midwestern Active Component and Reserve and National Guard servicemen, actively serving or Veteran, who had returned from Iraq or Afghanistan deployments during Operation Enduring/Iraqi Freedom eras. Eleven focus groups were held with 34 servicemen (20 Reserve/National Guard and 14 Active Component). Qualitative analyses used inductive and deductive techniques. Servicemen reported a lack of awareness of male SAIM, a tendency to blame or marginalize male victims, and substantial barriers to reporting sexual assault. Reserve/National Guard participants emphasized barriers such as a perception of greater stigma due to their unique status as citizen-soldiers, an ethos of unit conformity and leadership modeling, and a lack of confidence in leadership and the SAIM reporting process. In contrast, Active Component servicemen emphasized the deployment location and sex of victim and perpetrator as key reporting barriers. Findings make an important contribution to the scant literature on risk and protective factors for male SAIM and servicemen's perceptions of sexual violence and assault reporting barriers by their service type and location. This work has implications for routine screening for sexual violence experiences of male service members and Veterans. Providers' knowledge of gender stereotypes regarding sexual assault, assault risks and experiences of deployed servicemen, and potential barriers to SAIM disclosure is vital for patient-centered care delivery. Additional research to address factors that influence post-SAIM care engagement of males is indicated.