Military Sexual Trauma Creates Risk for PTSD

April 1, 2015 Harry Croft, M.D.

Military sexual trauma is a risk factor for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental illnesses; and, unfortunately, sexual trauma is unusually common in the military. The Veteran’s Administration has implemented universal initiatives for the screening of military sexual trauma, but is this enough to help veterans who experience sexual trauma and PTSD?

Military Sexual Trauma

The Veteran’s Administration defines military sexual trauma as, “sexual harassment that is threatening in character or physical assault of a sexual nature that occurred while the victim was in the military regardless of geographic location of the trauma, gender of the victim or the relationship to the perpetrator.”

Military sexual trauma is a risk for PTSD and, unfortunately, seuxal trauma in the military is common. Find out more about military sexual trauma here.And while sexual assault is strikingly common in the general population with about one-in-six women (16.6%) experiencing it, in the military, this rate is almost double with 32.4% of women reporting military sexual trauma. The rate of military sexual trauma for men is also greater than in the general population with about 3% of men in the general population being victims of sexual assault while 4.8% of male veterans reporting military sexual trauma.

It is likely that these numbers are actually low due to underreporting, especially in the veteran population.

Military Sexual as a Risk Factor for PTSD

Additionally, those who have suffered military sexual trauma are much more likely to also screen positive for PTSD. According to a recent study, veterans with a history of military sexual trauma were 2-3 times more likely to screen positive for posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety and to report thoughts of suicide or suicide attempts. Veterans who experience military sexual trauma also have more somatic (physical) symptoms as well as lower mental and cognitive functioning and lower quality of life.

There is no doubt that military sexual trauma severely, negatively impacts the mental health of those that suffer it.

Military Sexual Abuse, PTSD and Mental Health Treatment

The one, perhaps, positive note is that veterans with a history of military sexual trauma do have a greater engagement in mental health treatment independent of PTSD and depression, suggesting that military sexual trauma, itself, requires and motivates mental health treatment (as it does for most).

Perhaps less positive is the fact that most veterans (69.4%) report that the Veteran’s Administration is not their main source of mental healthcare so even though the Veteran’s Administration may have increased screening, this may only catch a small portion of those who have suffered military sexual trauma.

What is important to realize from this information and study is that all healthcare practitioners, whether in the Veteran’s Administration or not, need to be aware of the mental health risks that military sexual trauma poses and the frequency of this type of trauma, particularly in female veterans, and screen for this whenever mental health issues are suspected.


Katherine Klingensmith, MD, and Robert H. Pietrzak, PhD, MPH, The Burden of Military Sexual Trauma in US Veterans

Medscape Reference, Sexual Assault, Accessed April 1, 2015

You can also connect with Dr. Harry Croft on his website, Google+, Facebook, and Linkedin.

APA Reference
Croft, H. (2015, April 1). Military Sexual Trauma Creates Risk for PTSD, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 13 from

Author: Harry Croft, M.D.

Dr. Harry Croft is a keynote speaker, consultant, and media guest and contributor specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of combat-related posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). He currently acts as a trainer and consultant to businesses with regard to veterans, PTSD, and employment-related issues.

Find Dr. Croft's book, I Always Sit with My Back to the Wall, here, and find out more about him on his website.

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