Military Culture

Nearly 60 percent of women experience stalking in the ranks, study finds

A new study looking into the prevalence of stalking in the rank-and-file paints a grim picture of a military already fraught with questions that suggest a toxic culture.

The report from the Journal of Interpersonal Violence, titled “An Examination of Stalking Experiences During Military Service Among Female and Male Veterans and Associations With PTSD and Depression,” analyzed responses by 1,733 veterans in an effort to understand not only the rate of stalking during military service, but the impact these experiences have on mental health.

The Uniform Code of Military Justice recently added stalking as a separate article, defined as “repeated maintenance of visual or physical proximity to a specific person; repeated conveyance of verbal threat, written threats, or threats implied by conduct, or a combination of such threats, directed at or toward a specific person; or a pattern of conduct composed of repeated acts evidencing a continuity of purpose.”

Nearly 60 percent of the 315 women veterans who were surveyed reported experiencing an incident during military service that fell under the behavioral components of the UCMJ’s definition, the study reported, a much higher number than previous studies that analyzed the same topic. These behaviors were most often exhibited in the form of unwanted messages, emails or phone calls.

For males on active duty, the reported number was 35 percent, with the most common manifestation being an unannounced or uninvited visit from the offending party. Again, this number is significantly higher than previous studies.

Over the course of a lifetime, civilian women report stalking at a rate of 8 percent to 19 percent, the study found. That number for female veterans jumps to 35 percent.

And while just 2 percent to 6 percent of male civilians experience these incidents over the lifespan, 15 percent of men who served in uniform reported encountering one or more episodes of the unwanted behavior.

In all, nearly 40 percent of men and women reported experiencing incidents of stalking while serving in the military, the majority of which occurred when personnel occupied the ranks of E-1 to E-4.

Evidence also exists that the rate of stalking while on active duty may be nearly double that which has been previously reported, the study claims.

Mistrust of leadership, among other factors, could certainly contribute to the delay in openly discussing what could be traumatic event. A 2011 survey of nearly 23,000 troops in the E-5 through O-6 ranks revealed 1 in 5 respondents viewed an immediate superior as toxic or unethical.

This delay in disclosing information can result in diminishing support measures that could have otherwise been made available to help reduce long-term impacts, the authors claim.

That outcome makes both female and male veterans who experience these incidents significantly more likely to endure post-traumatic stress disorder or depression, whether immediately after the incident or years after leaving the military.

While the scope of the study was limited by the small sample size of veterans — versus a larger analysis of current active-duty personnel — the authors suggest these findings should result in a push to implement treatment and intervention procedures for victims of stalking during military service, especially when stalking is often an additional layer of trauma experienced by victims of sexual assault.

Furthermore, the study concluded that the Department of Defense should develop post-traumatic stress and depression assessments that incorporate experiences of stalking alongside analyzations of combat or other traumatic experiences military personnel may encounter.

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