The American Psychological Association has taken the extraordinary step of retracting an in-house journal article that asserted the rate of rape and other sexual trauma among military men was as much as 15 times higher than the Pentagon’s own survey.
In a press released posted Sunday night, the APA said outside scholars had examined the study, “Preliminary Data Suggest Rates of Male Sexual Trauma May be Higher than Previously Reported,” and determined that the method for randomly selecting and surveying male combat veterans was flawed.
“Although the article went through our standard peer-review process, other scholars have since examined the data and raised valid concerns regarding the design and statistical analysis, which compromise the findings,” Gary R. VandenBos, APA’s publisher, said in announcing the retraction.
Having to retract findings it ballyhooed just a week ago is clearly an embarrassment for the world’s largest association of psychologists with nearly 122,000 members.
The APA sent out a press release Nov. 2 touting the military male findings among 12 other articles on military sexual trauma in the journal Psychological Services.
“Rates of military sexual trauma among men who served in the military may be as much as 15 times higher than has been previously reported, largely because of barriers associated with stigma, beliefs in myths about male rape, and feelings of helplessness,” the APA said Nov. 2.
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APA is not retracting the other articles with a general theme that military sexual trauma is underreported.
Sean Sheppard, a psychologist at the University of Utah and lead researcher for the now-retracted article, told The Washington Times last week that his survey method of a randomly selected 180 veterans enabled him to uncover the true rate of male sexual assault.
The APA retraction said military sexual trauma was broadly defined in the journal articles and included sexual assault, sexual battery or repeated, threatening sexual harassment experienced during military service.
But in Mr. Sheppard’s survey questionnaire, male sexual trauma equaled, “I was sexually assaulted while serving in the military.”
The Pentagon and the Justice Department define sexual assault as rape or other unwanted sexual contact or a threat to commit such an assault.
The Rand Corp., which conducted the Pentagon’s latest sexual assault survey, found that 12,000 military men said they were sexually assaulted last year. Of those, 3,850 said they were the victims of “penetrative” attacks, meaning they were raped.
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A Rand spokesman confirmed Monday that its researchers told the APA that its published study methodology was flawed.
To extrapolate the APA article, it would mean as many as 180,000 military men were sexually assaulted, and of those, 57,750 were raped in one year.
“In the research that we conducted, broadly speaking, the rates of sexual assault are significantly higher,” Mr. Sheppard told The Times. “I couldn’t tell you whether that is due to rape or not, but you can make that hypothesis.”
The study said: “Data from this study, although preliminary, suggest that published rates of male [military sexual trauma] may substantially underestimate the true rate of the problem. Current work is underway to replicate these findings and expand the scope of this research by assessing a broader range of behaviors that comprise sexual assault.”
“We know that there is underreporting among men and women, and hope that this special issue will help to bring awareness and treatment for those that serve and protect us,” said the periodical’s co-editor, Michi Fu, a clinical practitioner. “I personally wanted to pull together scholarship after hearing of reports of military sexual trauma being so much more prevalent than in the general population.”