A Global Threat: Sexual Assault in the Military

By Gina Magliocco

Sexual assault is a prominent issue in the U.S. military, with distinguished members speaking out. As of May 2019, sexual assault in the U.S. military has risen 38 percent from 2016 to 2018. And despite people becoming increasingly aware of the worsening situation within the military’s ranks—being an institution that prides itself on its integrity—those serving still feel under threat.

While the problem persists, there are real consequences for those currently in the armed forces. According to the American Journal of Public Health, sexual trauma has the same or higher chance of causing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) in victims as combat. Additionally, the same study found that disassociation and personality disorders were some of the most common effects stemming from sexual trauma in female veterans.

A comparison

Similar problems persist in militaries around the world. In Canada, the government has tried to curb sexual assault in the military, with 1.6 per cent of service members reporting instances of sexual assault in 2018 compared to 1.7 per cent in 2016. In 2018, only 900 members of the Canadian military reported that they experienced sexual assault. While not an insignificant amount, that same year, the United States reported approximately 20,000 instances of assault. In the United Kingdom, there has been a 35 per cent rise in instances of sexual assault since 2016. Although there were only 153 investigations that occurred in 2018, it is important to recognize that an increase has occurred, especially since the U.K.’s military police has been accused of handling these cases poorly.

In all three countries, members of the military who have been sexually assaulted have opposed the use of military courts when it comes to prosecuting these crimes. In practice, military-court rulings have shown bias and experts have suggested that matters of sexual trauma be brought instead before civilian courts.

Deputy Chief of General Staff, Lieutenant General Nick Pope, has spoken out on sexual assaults in the U.K.’s military, proclaiming the importance of “stepping up our education and awareness programs, reviewing our internal disciplinary procedures and raising awareness amongst personnel of where support is available.” 

In response to the recent rise in sexual assaults in the military, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan released a memo stating that he would make sexual harassment a crime and Marine Corps Commandant Gen. Robert Neller said, “his service will institute rank-specific leadership training to improve staff non-commissioned officer and officer handling of sexual-assault reports, as well as overhaul its victims’ advocacy training and increase sexual-assault response coordinator training.” Along with an overhaul in prosecuting sexual harassment, the Veterans Health Association provides services and covers all medical needs when it comes to sexual trauma in the military.


The United States, Canada and the United Kingdom have all failed to provide justice and institute reform. When looking at these statistics, it is easy to see that no matter where one goes sexual assault is an issue. Moreover, the military has so far been unable to protect those who have suffered from this terrible phenomenon. While some sexual assault cases have gone to trial in the civilian court system, this effort, along with education, must be expanded. Systems that are already in place should be reworked, and local members of congress, especially those in defense specific committees, should be urged to take a closer look at this issue. Change can happen if voices are heard, especially the voices of the victims. It is challenging for victims of sexual assault to speak out so the United States, Canada, and the United Kingdom must find a way to give these honorable men and women a platform to be heard. 

Gina Magliocco is currently a junior at the University of Delaware, where she is studying International Relations and Public Policy.

Photo courtesy of Staff Sgt. Paige Behringer.