Trauma and the female veteran
Research suggests that 81-93% of female veterans have been exposed to some type of trauma – a significantly higher number than within the non-veteran, civilian population. More than half of female veterans surveyed experienced some type of trauma or abuse before joining the military. Twenty-seven to 49% experienced childhood sexual abuse and 35% experienced childhood physical abuse.
For many, these traumas extended into adulthood, with 29-40% of female veterans reporting sexual assault and about half experiencing physical assault. About 19% of female veterans have experienced some type of domestic violence.
Military sexual trauma (MST) in the form of sexual harassment and assault remains a significant concern for female soldiers. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, an alarming 20% of female veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan experience MST. According to the U.S. Department of Defense, approximately one in three military women has been sexually assaulted compared to one in six civilians.
Research indicates that the prevalence of military sexual assault among female veterans is between 20 and 48%, and 80% of female veterans have reported being sexually harassed. Despite the implementation of prevention programs and improved reporting mechanisms, female soldiers continue to experience sexual harassment and assault and are reluctant to report incidences. Of significant concern is this under-reporting of MST and a lack of information about services for survivors of MST.
Stress: Women in the military face challenges that may differ from their male colleagues. According to a report by Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America, more than 40% have children and approximately 30,000 single mothers were deployed. Women report higher levels of stress over the impact of their deployment on family and relationships. Experiences of trauma and the subsequent impact on daily functioning can present a significant challenge as women veterans readjust to civilian life and can be a risk factor for homelessness.
PTSD's far-reaching effects: The experience of trauma prior to enlistment, coupled with trauma experienced while in uniform, make abuse a common denominator among homeless female veterans. The impact of MST is especially pronounced. Female veterans assaulted in the military are nine times more likely to exhibit post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms; are more likely to have problems with alcohol or drugs; have lower economic and educational outcomes; and have trouble maintaining relationships, housing, and employment. Even though the female homeless veteran population has tremendous service needs, many of these are going unmet.