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Mengeling M, Booth B, Torner J, Sadler AG. Deployed Servicewomen's Views and Experiences with Reportinig Sexual Assault: Focus Groups with OEF/OIF Active Component and Reserve/National Guard Servicewomen. Presented at: AcademyHealth Annual Research Meeting; 2013 Jun 25; Baltimore, MD.
Research Objective: Identify barriers to reporting sexual assault occurring during military deployments (Operation Enduring Freedom or Operation Iraqi Freedom (OEF/OIF)) for both Active Component (AC) and Reserve and National Guard (RNG) servicewomen. Study Design: Fourteen focus groups (N = 75), sampled from five Midwestern states, stratified by Officer/Enlisted personnel, AC and RNG. The research team developed a coding dictionary of relevant themes. Twenty-nine percent of the transcripts were independently coded by two researchers. Agreement between the coders was 80% or better for the majority of themes/codes. Remaining transcripts were coded by one of the two trained researchers and entered into NVivo 8.0 for data management and analysis. Population Studied: RNG and AC OEF/OIF-era servicewomen. Principal Findings: Servicewomen acknowledged common reasons why many choose not to report sexual assault (SA) including concerns about confidentiality ("Well then they go up through your chain of command, . and then their first shirts have to know about it. Their platoon sergeant, their section sergeant, you know, and then their team leader, you know what I'm saying? What is that, five, six people right there, that knows about this problem, you know?"), judgment or "victim blaming" ("It's that perception that American women are easy, that our men kind of [permit]" "That's the whole thing, being a woman enlisted, being believed."), career consequences ("What I say today will affect me for the next five years.") and thinking nothing will be done ("...she actually got raped and when they said, the name of this officer came up three times." "And you know what they do. They just let him go."). Deployed RNG servicewomen spoke of additional barriers to reporting ("Under the jurisdiction it says that we fall under active duty rules and that, but the active duty can't punish him. It has to be up to the Reserves, because we even had a guy that got stopped for drugs and the commander couldn't do anything about it."). Even servicewomen who choose to report face challenges, whether they report immediately ("The day you hit ground, you lose control and so they never got the paper work in with enough time to do a follow through.") or when they return (".because what they're seeing is that a lot of people were raped over in Iraq and Afghanistan and they didn't feel comfortable and they were waiting until they come back to their home unit and telling it. So much damage has already been done by that time that it's hard to prove anything if they want to prosecute that person . but they've waited too long, so they're not going to get that closure.") Conclusions Women who overcome personal barriers to reporting, such as confidentiality concerns and being judged, may face additional organizational (command hierarchy among RNG and AC service members) and situational (temporary duty assignments) barriers for sexual assaults that occur during deployment. Implications for Policy, Delivery or Practice: Barriers delay or discourage service members from reporting military sexual assault likely delay seeking health care, which may contribute to amplified symptoms and adverse physical and mental health consequences.