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Female Soldiers Facing Combat More Likely To Be Sexually Assaulted

Photo by Paula Bronstein

U.S. troops in Afghanistan appear to have mixed feelings about the decision lifting the ban on women in combat positions. Some women already operate in combat zones. Hospital Corpsman Shannon Crowley is shown here with her Marine Corps team in Musa Qala, Afghanistan, in November 2010.

Women in the U.S. military who see combat are more likely to be sexually harassed and assaulted. That's what the data shows, according to a new study pulling from surveys of more than 13,000 enlisted women. Deployed women exposed to combat reported 20 percent more cases of sexual harassment and 4 percent more sexual assaults than their non-deployed peers.

The official exclusion of women from combat fell earlier this year, but women have seen combat first-hand for awhile now. They make up a significant chunk of active-duty personnel, and many have witnessed death, dismemberment, and other war-related violence. This study focusses on them.

Cynthia LeardMann of the Naval Health Research Center in San Diego led the study. Stars and Stripes pulls this quote from the research paper:

In these high-stress and often life-threatening environments, prioritizing the identification and prevention of sexual stressors may be more challenging, perpetrators may be less concerned with consequences of committing assault, and perpetrators may be less likely to be held accountable for their actions.

The Pentagon plans to integrate women into all combat roles by 2016. The Department of Defense has been trying to decrease the incidence of rape in the military, but sexual assault has only grown in recent years. It's up 35 percent since 2010, according to some measures. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel has described sexual assault as a "scourge" upon the military.

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