THE SEXUAL ASSAULT AND SECONDARY VICTIMIZATION OF FEMALE VETERANS: HELP-SEEKING EXPERIENCES WITH MILITARY AND CIVILIAN SOCIAL SYSTEMS

Authors


Address correspondence and reprint requests to: Rebecca Campbell, Department of Psychology, Michigan State University, 127 C Psychology Building, East Lansing, MI 48824-1116. E-mail: rmc@msu.edu

Abstract

A sample of predominantly low-income, African American female veterans and reservists seeking health care in a Veterans' Administration medical clinic was screened for a history of sexual assault since age 18. Overall, 39% had been sexually assaulted in adulthood. Those who had been sexually victimized were asked to describe one assault incident in detail: 38% described an assault that occurred during military service and 62% described one that occurred before or after military service. This study also examined victims' postassault help-seeking experiences and the degree to which they encountered “secondary victimization” (i.e., victim-blaming behaviors and practices engaged in by legal and medical personnel, which exacerbates victims' trauma). Most victims who sought help from the legal or medical systems (military or civilian) reported that this contact made them feel guilty, depressed, anxious, distrustful of others, and reluctant to seek further help. Secondary victimization was significantly positively correlated with posttraumatic stress symptomatology.

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