Assailant Identity and Self-Reported Nondisclosure of Military Sexual Trauma in Partnered Women Veterans

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Abstract

Objective: Department of Veterans Affairs estimates of military sexual trauma (MST) suggest 27% of female veterans have experienced MST. However, Department of Defense data (Department of Defense, 2014) show that a subgroup of active-duty women do not report sexual assaults to a military authority, suggesting barriers to disclosure exist among military samples. No study of female veterans has examined rates of nondisclosure among those with previous screens for MST; these data could inform screening efforts and establishment of safe havens for candid disclosures. Method: Using an explanatory sequential mixed-methods survey, a history of MST, and postservice MST disclosures during screening and their associations with demographic, assault, and screening-setting characteristics were evaluated in 359 female veterans. Open-ended responses regarding barriers to disclosure were analyzed using editing analysis style. Results: Eighty-one percent (n = 289) reported MST. Of these, 50% (n = 143) reported a prior screening and 25% (n = 35) reported they did not disclose their true MST status. Veterans who experienced MST by a unit-member assailant were significantly less likely to disclose (adjusted odds ratio = 4.75, 95% confidence interval = 1.20–18.30). Disclosure barriers included stigma, experiential avoidance, and discomfort with the screening setting. Conclusion: Creative interventions to reduce nondisclosure among female veterans, with specific attention to those assaulted by a unit member, are urgently needed.

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