Cover: Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment in the U.S. Military

Sexual Assault and Sexual Harassment in the U.S. Military

Volume 2. Estimates for Department of Defense Service Members from the 2014 RAND Military Workplace Study

Published Apr 15, 2016

Edited by Andrew R. Morral, Kristie L. Gore, Terry L. Schell

Contributors: Barbara Bicksler, Coreen Farris, Bonnie Ghosh-Dastidar, Lisa H. Jaycox, Dean Kilpatrick, Steve Kistler, Amy Street, Terri Tanielian, Kayla M. Williams


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Research Questions

  1. What percentage of active-component Department of Defense service members experienced sexual assault, sexual harassment, or gender discrimination in the past year?
  2. How are the experiences of men and women who have been sexually assaulted similar or different?
  3. What are the perceived and actual consequences of sexual assault and sexual harassment for workplace cohesion, productivity, retention intentions, and other outcomes?
  4. Can differences in rates of sexual assault and sexual harassment across branches of service be explained by differences in the demographic makeup of their members?
  5. Do active- and reserve-component service members have different risks for sexual assault?

In early 2014, the Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office asked the RAND National Defense Research Institute to conduct an independent assessment of the rates of sexual assault, sexual harassment, and gender discrimination in the military — an assessment last conducted in 2012 by the Department of Defense using the Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members. The resulting RAND Military Workplace Study invited close to 560,000 U.S. service members to participate in a survey fielded in August and September of 2014. This volume presents results from this survey for active- and reserve-component service members in the Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine Corps. It includes estimates of the number of service members who experienced sexual assault, sexual harassment, or gender discrimination in the past year, as well as detailed information about the characteristics of those incidents, decisions to report, and experiences with response and legal systems for both male and female service members. It also describes service members' beliefs and attitudes about these problems.

Key Findings

An estimated 20,300 active-component members were sexually assaulted in the past year, out of approximately 1.3 million active-component service members

  • This includes approximately 1.0 percent of men and 4.9 percent of women.

The sexual assault experiences of men and women differ

  • Among these differences, men who are assaulted are more likely than women to experience multiple assaults and to describe an event as hazing or intended to abuse or humiliate them.

The risk of sexual assault varies substantially by branch of service

  • Men and women in the Air Force experience substantially lower rates of sexual assault than those in the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps even when controlling for other demographic or military risk factors for sexual assault.

Sexual harassment is a common experience, especially for women in the military

  • An estimated 116,600 members were sexually harassed in the past year: 22 percent of active-component women and 7 percent of active-component men.

Many who report sexual assault perceived some kind of retaliation

  • 52% of active-component women perceived that they experienced professional or social retaliation after reporting a sexual assault.

The reserve component had significantly lower rates of sexual assault in the past year than the active component

  • Among reserve-component members, 3.1 percent of women and 0.4 percent of men experienced a sexual assault in the past year.

The majority of sexual assaults, for both the active- and reserve-component members, were perpetrated by other military personnel and occurred in military settings

  • 85% of active-component members and 81% of reserve-component members indicated their assailant was another member of the military.
  • 65% of active-component members and 63% of reserve-component members indicated the assault occurred on a military installation, ship, armory, or reserve unit site.


  • Improve policies and programs to increase the reporting of the full range of sexual assaults defined by the UCMJ, including those that are not perceived as sexual acts (e.g., those that occur under the guise of hazing or bullying).
  • Expand sexual harassment and gender discrimination monitoring, prevention, and accountability practices; and equip commanders with data and guidance to take effective actions.
  • Target prevention and enforcement efforts to reduce bullying, hazing, and other demeaning behaviors.
  • Identify factors contributing to risk and prevention of sexual assault and sexual harassment. Topics for further investigations include: (1) Develop a comprehensive risk model for both sexual assault and harassment to better identify subpopulations at risk, and to target intervention and prevention efforts. Such models would provide insights into the characteristics of the service members who experience these events as well as identify the circumstances in which they occur. And (2) explain the substantial differences in risk across services, including identifying the policies, programs, attitudes, work environment, and personnel characteristics that might explain these disparities.
  • Evaluate the sexual assault and sexual harassment training received by service members. Ongoing monitoring of service member knowledge of sexual assault and sexual harassment may be key to improvements in training.

This research was 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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