Incidence rates of emotional, sexual, and physical abuse in active-duty military service members, 1997–2015

T. L. Collette, Kennesaw State University
S. A. von Esenwein, University of Kansas
K. E. Moore, Kennesaw State University
E. Sterling, Kennesaw State University


Sexual, emotional, and physical abuse are often underreported in the Military, and large-scale epidemiological research is limited. The current work examines the incidence rates of abuse across six demographic factors (age, gender, rank, marital status, race, and branch) using the Defense Medical Epidemiology Database (DMED) in active-duty U.S. military service members to establish a comparative cohort for future work in this area. Data were extracted from 1997 to 2015 and analyzed using a one-sample chi-square goodness-of-fit test. Women report emotional abuse over two times more than expected, physical abuse twice as much, and sexual abuse five times more than expected. Black service members were reported emotional abuse at rates 87% greater than anticipated based on base military proportions, reported double the amount of physical abuse than expected, and received sexual abuse diagnoses 35% more than expected. Paygrades E5-E9 had higher than expected emotional abuse rates, while married service members had higher than expected emotional and physical abuse rates. White, male, and higher rank service members reported lower than expected rates for any abuse type. The present study provides a strong foundation for further research and developing interventions aimed toward vulnerable populations in the U.S. military.