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Research Questions

  1. Based on previous research, what are the characteristics of sexual assaults against men in the civilian and U.S. military populations?
  2. What does the published research suggest regarding the needs of male sexual assault victims?
  3. What do civilian experts and military service providers perceive to be the needs of male sexual assault victims?
  4. What changes do civilian experts and military service providers believe the U.S. Department of Defense can make to better address the needs of male sexual assault victims in the U.S. military?

In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2016, Congress included a requirement to improve prevention of and response to sexual assaults in which the victim is a male member of the U.S. armed forces. To support this effort, RAND researchers reviewed previous research on male sexual assault and specifically considered research on male sexual assault in the U.S. military. The researchers also conducted interviews with individuals who provide support services to U.S. military personnel and with civilian experts who study male sexual assault or provide services to male victims. This report details the study's findings.

Although research considering the needs of and services for male sexual assault victims is more limited than research addressing female victims of sexual assault, the available research provides initial information on the prevalence, characteristics, consequences, and public perceptions of male sexual assault. This literature — along with the results of interviews that addressed needs of male sexual assault victims, reporting and help-seeking among victims, and knowledge and perceptions about such assaults — suggests potential avenues for the U.S. Department of Defense to pursue to better address the needs of male sexual assault victims in the U.S. military. These avenues include improvements to reporting procedures, counseling services, outreach, and education and training of service providers and servicemembers.

Key Findings

Review of Published Research

  • Researchers recently estimated that 1.7 percent of civilian men have experienced an attempted or completed rape in their lifetime. Research estimates suggest that 2.2 percent of U.S. active-duty men have experienced a sexual assault in their lifetime, and 1.8 percent have experienced a sexual assault since joining the military.
  • Many male sexual assault victims experience symptoms of depression, anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, self-blame, low self-esteem, or problems with anger control following the assault.
  • Estimates suggest that only 15 percent of military male sexual assault victims file a report, which appears to be consistent with levels of civilian reporting.

Interviews with Military Service Providers and Civilian Experts

  • Interviewees emphasized the mental health care needs of sexual assault victims. Several service providers believed that additional male-specific mental health services are needed in the military system.
  • Most service providers believed that individuals in their profession were either somewhat informed or well informed about sexual assault against men in the military. However, few chaplains believed that those in the chaplaincy were prepared to assist male victims.
  • Interviewees discussed multiple barriers to reporting among male sexual assault victims. For example, some male victims do not classify what happened to them as a "sexual assault." Other barriers included shame and embarrassment, a belief that nothing would be done, concerns regarding privacy, and concerns regarding harm to a military unit.
  • Some service providers indicated that servicemembers maintain beliefs in false rape myths regarding male sexual assault, even after receiving sexual assault prevention training.


  • Better educate military service providers on how to provide gender-responsive support to male sexual assault victims.
  • Promote male victim reporting by ensuring that reporting is safe and confidential.
  • Change outreach to better address the needs and concerns of male sexual assault victims.
  • When educating servicemembers on sexual assault prevention and response, use an engaging format that includes information on the characteristics of male sexual assault.
  • Educate commanders on how to respond to male sexual assault and how to interact with male victims.
  • Consider development and evaluation of additional counseling services that address the mental health care needs of male sexual assault victims in the military.
  • Support additional research that addresses the effects of training, outreach, and services addressing male sexual assault.

This research was sponsored by the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office in the Office of the Secretary of Defense and conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

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