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Sexual Assault/Sexual Harassment

Sexual assault and sexual harassment are significant issues in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, one in three cisgender women and one in four cisgender men in the U.S. experienced some form of contact sexual violence in their lifetime. Due to data collection limitations with regard to gender and sexual identity, there is not clear information federally on rates of sexual violence for non-cisgender and queer individuals.

Sexual violence and sexual harassment are also significant issues in the military. According to the Department of Defense Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military: Fiscal Year 2021:

  • There were 8,866 reports of sexual assault involving service members as either victims or the subjects of criminal investigations in fiscal year 2021; 7,249 of these reports were made by service members.
  • Approximately 614 of the reports were for incidents that occurred before the service member entered into military service.
  • 1,732 formal complaints of sexual harassment were received, processed, and investigated by the military services and the National Guard Bureau in fiscal year 2021.

According to the 2018 Workplace and Gender Relations Survey of Active Duty Members Overview Report, an anonymously completed survey conducted every two years, 6.2 percent of DOD women (an estimated 12,927 service members) and 0.7 percent of DOD men (an estimated 7,546 service members) experienced a sexual assault in the past 12 months. The same report for reservists from 2019 reported that 3.1 percent of reserve component women (an estimated 4,819 service members) and 0.3 percent of men (an estimated 1,748 service members) experienced a sexual assault in the past 12 months.

Sexual Violence Continuum

The original term “continuum of sexual violence” connects the everyday experiences of unwanted sexual contact, such as lewd comments, to less frequent ones, like rape1. Importantly, this continuum is not a hierarchy and does not categorize certain experiences as more or less harmful. Victims of sexual violence may experience a range of impact depending on their relationship with the person who harmed them, personal history, and other factors. The continuum of violence is evident in the military as well as a recent RAND report documented the association between military work environments with high rates of sexual harassment and risk of sexual assault.2 The Department of Defense and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) also use the term “sexual harm continuum."

Continuum of Harm

The DOD Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office serves as the single point of authority for program accountability and oversight to enable military readiness and reduce, with a goal to eliminate, sexual assault from the military. The SAPRO website contains helpful information related to sexual assault including fact sheets on:

DOD has multiple ongoing efforts to address sexual assault and supports needed for victims and those accused of sexual assault, including collaborative work groups to examine treatment gaps, support best practices and provide recommendations to improve the health care response, and take action regarding male sexual assault, as well as ongoing research studies.

PHCoE serves as a resource on sexual assault and sexual harassment for both service members and Military Health System providers, offering material on:


  1. Kelly, L. (1987). The Continuum of Sexual Violence. In: Hanmer J, Maynard M, eds. Women, Violence and Social Control. Explorations in Sociology. Palgrave Macmillan UK; 46-60. doi:10.1007/978-1-349-18592-4_4
  2. Morral, A. R., & Schell, T. L. (2021). Sexual Assault of Sexual Minorities in the US Military. RAND.
Last Updated: May 30, 2024
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