Sexual Harassment, Gender Discrimination Look Different for Men and Women in Army, but Experiences Similar Across Locations

For Release

August 2, 2021

Sexual harassment and discrimination in the active-duty U.S. Army look different and occur more often for women than men, but the settings where harassment occurs and characteristics of perpetrators are similar, according to a new RAND Corporation report.

Among women in the Army who experience sexual harassment or gender discrimination, the most common types of behaviors reported during their most serious experience include perceived gender discrimination—both mistreatment on the basis of gender and sexist comments about women's ability to perform their job—repeated attempts to establish an unwanted romantic or sexual relationship, and sexual comments about their appearance. More women than men report experiencing harassment or discrimination on more than just a single occasion.

Men, on the other hand, are most likely to experience offensive insults related to their masculinity, sexual orientation or gender expression.

Both men and women frequently experience offensive sexual jokes and unwanted discussion of sex in the workplace.

“Instances of sexual harassment and discrimination in the Army frequently co-occur—meaning victims tend to experience multiple behaviors during a single experience—but women tend to experience more types of harassing and discriminatory behaviors overall,” said Avery Calkins, RAND associate economist and lead author of the report. “On average, women experience 3.2 different types of behaviors while men experience 2.3 types.”

The characteristics of perpetrators and the time and place sexual harassment and gender discrimination occur are similar for both men and women, according to the report. The perpetrators are almost always men—typically enlisted soldiers and a victim's peer. While these incidents can happen any time or place, they most often occur on-base and during military activities, rather than in off-duty hours.

Women, however, are more likely than men to be sexually harassed by their direct supervisor or another higher-ranked member of their chain of command—48% of women versus 39% of men. Women's experiences also tend to be more persistent than men's and occur across a wider range of workplace settings.

When comparing experiences of sexual harassment and gender discrimination across Army installations, including those characterized as high- or non-high risk based on how the rate of sexual harassment at the installation compared to the average rate across the Army, the report finds the experiences to be broadly similar for both men and women. The types of harassment and discrimination are also generally similar across the handful of installations with above average rates of sexual harassment. As a result, the authors find there is no need to tailor the content of prevention training for individual installations as experiences across both are statistically similar.

“To provide our Army Team members with a world-class prevention and response program, we continually look for ways to gain better understanding of the factors that detract from unit cohesion and lead to incidents of gender discrimination, sexual assault, sexual harassment and associated retaliation,” said Dr. James A. Helis, Director of the Army Resilience Directorate. “The findings of this study provide significant actionable information for the Army, which will enable us to better focus our prevention efforts.”

“These findings enable the Army to see precisely what the problem looks like, where it is happening, and who is most commonly involved in these everyday forms of gender-based violence,” said Dr. Jenna Newman, social science advisor at the Army Resilience Directorate and the Army's project lead for the study. “Based on this information, we now know exactly where to draw a line in the sand. Anyone who sees that line being crossed has a professional and moral obligation to intervene, on the spot and without exception. To truly start changing culture, all of our Army teammates need to be responsible for guarding the line.”

This study was commissioned by the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-1, U.S. Army and conducted by the RAND Arroyo Center using data from the most recent (2018) Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Personnel (WGRA).

Other authors of the report, “Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination in the Active-Component Army: Variation in Most Serious Event Characteristics by Gender and Installation Risk,” are Matthew Cefalu, Terry Schell, Linda Cottrell, Sarah Meadows, and Rebecca Collins.

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