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Research Question

  1. How can soldier experiences with sexual assault and sexual harassment be grouped based on similar victim characteristics, perpetrator characteristics, specific behaviors, and the context in which events occurred in order to better describe the full range of these experiences?

The Department of Defense Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members (WGRA) assesses whether service members experienced behaviors consistent with sexual assault or sexual harassment in the past year. For the most-serious experiences identified by respondents, the WGRA also measures a wide variety of victim characteristics, perpetrator characteristics, specific behaviors, and the context in which events occurred. This report describes the results of analyses run within the Army sample of the 2018 WGRA. These analyses sorted the sexual assault and sexual harassment experiences of victims into separate types based on the behaviors involved, the context and location of the events, the perpetrator characteristics, and the victim characteristics. This process defined five types of sexual assault and eight types of sexual harassment. The report describes these types of sexual assault and sexual harassment and assesses how common each type is in the Army. The report describes a breadth of both sexual assault and sexual harassment experiences that go beyond those typically discussed in prevention materials, and that might cause some to reassess common stereotypes about sexual assault and sexual harassment. This more detailed description of these experiences should inform Army prevention and response efforts to ensure that they reflect the full range of experiences that are prevalent in the Army.

Key Findings

  • Sexual assault prevention efforts in the Army are heavily oriented to the stereotypical sexual assaults regularly seen in college populations (i.e., sexual assaults that largely occur in the context of dating or social activities or in residence halls or dorms, are perpetrated by individual men who sexually assault women, and involve the use of alcohol). However, these types of assault account for fewer than half of sexual assault experiences it the Army, where a much larger fraction of sexual assaults have male victims; are done with the intent to abuse, bully or haze the victim; involve multiple perpetrators; do not involve alcohol; or occur in the workplace.
  • The most-common types of sexual assault with male victims involve perpetrators who are either (a) women or (b) groups of men in an abusive situation, such as hazing or bullying. The stereotype that perpetrators are motivated by sexual attraction (and thus that male sexual assault perpetrators are likely to be nonheterosexual men) ignores the extent to which sexual assaults of men are motivated by the desire to abuse, humiliate, or dominate the victim.
  • There is nothing in the data to suggest that female soldiers are more offended by sexually explicit talk or jokes than male soldiers. Men who are offended by sexually explicit talk or comments constitutes one of the most common forms of sexual harassment in the Army.


  • Army leadership should be aware of the full array of sexual assault and sexual harassment experiences and set aside simplistic stereotypes about who the victims and perpetrators are, the prevalence of behaviors that are actually experienced, and the contexts surrounding these experiences. This may allow more effective approaches to managing these problems in the Army.
  • Individuals in charge of developing and delivering sexual assault and sexual harassment training and prevention can make sure that training materials reflect the full array of victim experiences, especially the most-common and most-severe types, as well as the full array of victims, including men and sexual minorities.

Research conducted by

The research described in this report was sponsored by the United States Army and conducted by the Personnel, Training, and Health Program within RAND Arroyo Center.

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