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Research Question

  1. What is the risk of sexual assault to sexual minorities (i.e., LGB) in the U.S. military? How does it differ from the risk experienced by heterosexual service members?

Much of the focus of research on sexual assault in the military has been on the risk faced by women. However, in civilian populations, individuals who identify as lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) are known to be at especially high risk for sexual assault.

In this report, RAND researchers examine evidence from the 2016 and 2018 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members (WGRA) survey to estimate the proportion of military sexual assaults that are against LGB service members and others who do not describe themselves as identifying as heterosexual. They find that assaults on the minority of service members who do not describe themselves as heterosexual constitute almost half of the military's sexual assault numbers. The authors discuss sexual assault risks for these individuals and recommend modifying prevention programs to better address a large and previously unquantified proportion of all military sexual assaults.

Key Findings

  • Service members who identify as LGB or who do not indicate that they identify as heterosexual represented only 12 percent of the active component population in 2018, but accounted for approximately 43 percent of all sexually assaulted service members in that year.
  • The 91 percent of men who identify as heterosexual only accounted for 52 percent of all men who were sexually assaulted over a one-year period; the remaining 9 percent of men who did not indicate a heterosexual orientation accounted for 48 percent of all men who were sexually assaulted.
  • The 77 percent of women who identify as heterosexual only accounted for 60 percent of all women who were sexually assaulted over a one-year period, while the remaining 23 percent of women who did not indicate a heterosexual orientation accounted for 40 percent of all women who were sexually assaulted.


  • The Department of Defense could task the Office of People Analytics to perform detailed analyses of WGRA data to better understand circumstances and motivations around sexual assault of LGB service members.
  • For development of effective prevention strategies, information about sexual assaults of sexual minorities could be incorporated into sexual assault prevention materials.

Funding for this research was provided by gifts from RAND supporters and income from operations. The research was conducted within the Forces and Resources Policy Center of the RAND National Security Research Division.

This report is part of the RAND Corporation Research report series. RAND reports present research findings and objective analysis that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND reports undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.

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