Women assigned to two Army posts in Texas are more likely to be sexually assaulted than any other female soldiers in uniform. According to a new study by the RAND Corporation think tank, the risk to women at one of the posts — Fort Hood — is nearly a third higher than the average risk faced by all women in the Army generally.
Researchers said about one in 12 Army women who served at Fort Hood were sexually assaulted during the study year — which they estimated at 8.4%. Next highest was Fort Bliss, also in Texas, with a 7.6% sexual assault risk estimate for women. The Pentagon had the lowest level in the study, at 1.8%.
The study, commissioned by the Army Resilience Directorate, comes as Army officials and the Department of Defense continue to grapple with sexual harassment and assault in the military. It comes about a year after the killing of Spec. Vanessa Guillen, whose remains were found in late June 2020 after she had been missing from Fort Hood for about two months.
She was killed in her unit’s arms room by another soldier, 20-year-old Aaron David Robinson, who fatally shot himself as local police were about to take him into custody. Spec. Guillen told her family she also was being sexually harassed by another soldier but feared the consequences of reporting the incident.
“Even when adjusted for personal characteristics typically associated with higher sexual assault risk, the report finds that women at Fort Hood still face greater risk of sexual assault than if they were stationed elsewhere,” said Miriam Matthews, a senior behavioral and social scientist at RAND who authored the report.
She said knowing the numbers “is critical as it can help the Army better tailor its efforts to prevent sexual assault and sexual harassment.”
Risk levels also vary by career field. Female soldiers in medical or personnel occupations face the lowest risk, while those in field artillery units face the highest risk. The study also pointed out that frequent deployment is associated with an increased risk while units with proactive and “positive” supervisor climates were linked to lower sexual assault risk.
The RAND study also noted that while sexual harassment is more common than sexual assault in the Army, there is a strong correlation between the two.
“Installations with a higher risk for sexual harassment also demonstrate a higher risk for sexual assault and vice versa,” said Ms. Matthews. “This suggests a shared set of risk factors between the two.”
The authors of the study recommended focusing prevention programs on the locations, commands and career fields with the high risk levels of sexual assault and harassment. Improving workplace climate and sharing sexual assault data with commanders could also help mitigate risk.
“This study sheds light on the environmental and occupational factors that contribute to the risk of sexual assault and sexual harassment for our soldiers and, in turn, will help inform future prevention and response efforts,” said retired Army Col. James Hellis, director of the Army Resilience Directorate.