1 in 5 Women in the Air Force Report Being Sexually Assaulted

The Christian Science Monitor broke news today that a not-yet-released Air Force survey found that 1 in 5 women say they have been sexually assaulted since joining the force.

The survey, conducted by Gallup, interviewed 18,834 men and women in the Air Force between July and August 2010. Nineteen percent of women reported having been assaulted–of those, 58 percent say that they had been raped and 20 percent sodomized, which the military defines as nonconsensual oral or anal sex. The Christian Science Monitor explains:

While the data suggest the sexual-assault rate in the Air Force is roughly equal to what it is in the broader civilian population, the survey–obtained exclusively by the Monitor–points to unique challenges presented by the culture of the service. The vast majority of crimes are committed by male airmen on female airmen [sic], and nearly half of rape victims said they did not report the crime because they “did not want to cause trouble in their unit.”

“Despite having more women than any other branch of service, it’s clear that the Air Force, like the rest of the military, is in over its head when it comes to reducing this threat to our service members,” says Anu Bhagwati, former Marine Corps Captain and Executive Director of Service Women’s Action Network. “Senior military leadership has failed to protect survivors, punish perpetrators or hold commanders accountable for failing to enforce sexual assault policy.”

Also, released today was the FY 2010 “Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military” [PDF] by the Department of Defense’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO). The report shines light on the 3,158 incidents of sexual assault military-wide that were officially documented by service branches, of which 585 were specifically in the Air Force. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely these numbers reveal the depth of the problem–the report’s authors admit that an estimated 86 percent of sexual assaults against members of the armed forces go unreported.

This is not the first time sexual assault in the military has been a problem–as Ms. reported in the Spring 2010 issue, 17 veteran and active-duty service members who were raped, sexually assaulted or harassed have filed a class-action lawsuit against former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and current Secretary Robert Gates for failing to prevent, investigate and prosecute the crimes.

The Service Women’s Action Network is also lobbying for rights and remedies for military sexual assault survivors. Here’s a Ms. Foundation video with footage from their November rally, including voiceover from victims and their families:


Photo of Air Force servicewomen by Flickr user expertinfantry under Creative Commons.


  1. Alexandra M says:

    I am in the Air Force. We don't report rape if we want to keep our career. It is that plain and simple. I recommend the Military Rape Crisis Center for anyone who is in the military and can not or do not want to report it but still need help. They also have lawyers so if you want to report it talk to one of their lawyers first and make sure they or someone from MRCC goes with you to report it so you won't do it alone cause the Air Force is known to try to trick survivors into signing documents saying that they are lying and so on and so forth. That is the only advice that I can give. http://www.stopmilitaryrape.org

  2. EX USAF Sgt. says:

    I was in the USAF and the women at our SAC base were so well protected, most of the men were afraid to speak to them. All they have to do is quietly report, sexual harassment to the local AirForce law office, and you are out of a job for life. No trial, not facing your accuser, nada. Just to ensure they have no problems, the AirForce will bump the accused out of the base, and make his life miserable in an attempt to get him out ASAP. All a lady had to do is point, and your OUT! Nothing like having a lazy female coworker get even with anyone she wants by just pointing and saying "sexual harassment". Only advice I can give is to have a complete female military. Men, don't join!

  3. jurassigothinthecity says:

    Wow! I think we officially have a record, ladies! The MRA troll comment came straight off the top!!!

    Thanks for sharing your truth, Alexandra M. Looking at the fact that this information was gleaned from a Gallup survey, that means that self-reporting was the primary tool for collecting the date. Considering what Alexandra wrote, and the fact that rape is underreported both inside the military and out, these stats look like the sad tip of the iceberg.

    This frightens me for my smart, hard-working cousin who is currently seeking to join the Air Force.

  4. Lindsey says:

    im in high school and i was thinking about joining the military (air force or marines). Until i heard about this, women go in the military serve our country, as well as men. i dont understand why women are getting sexually assulted in a service thats suppse to help others. And even if they say something and they could lose their jobs, no one has the right to put theirhands on someone its just plan disrespectful. totally changed my impression on the military. but its not going to change my mind on going into the military, i love all the people who serve our country, and i hope when i go into the military, things would be changed.

    • Lindsey, hopefully young women like you will be part of a wave of change in the military–women who, with support from lawmakers and the military, will be able to speak out and be heard, and won’t accept that rapists can do so with impunity. Rape culture in the military should become a TABOO–soldiers should be taught from Day One that assaulting a fellow military mate is the WORST possible thing you can do! It should be pounded into them and be made into a source of great shame if they perpetrate an assault, rather than treated as “boys will be boys.” Let’s make this happen!!

      • Lindsey says:

        Thank you for understanding. i understand where you are comming from completely. They should have more respect for women in the military. thank you

  5. lysa schulte says:

    hi im in high school and i am all for joining thats the job i want. but than i came on this site and im kinda scared to join now.

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