Document Type


Date of Degree

Fall 2016

Degree Name

PhD (Doctor of Philosophy)

Degree In

Psychological and Quantitative Foundations

First Advisor

Westefeld, John S

First Committee Member

Ehly, Stewart

Second Committee Member

Keffala, Valerie

Third Committee Member

Liu, William M

Fourth Committee Member

Tarvydas, Vilia


This dissertation describes a qualitative study that explored the perceived barriers to reporting military sexual assaults that servicewomen experienced following a sexual assault while on active duty. The study aimed to answer the following research questions: (1) What barriers to reporting did servicewomen who survived sexual assault in a military setting perceive?; (2) What role did betrayal (the act of going against a promise) play in their decision? Semi-structured interviews with three servicewomen who were sexually assaulted while on active duty and did not report the assaults were analyzed using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Four superordinate themes emerged from the data including (1) external factors, (2) internal processes, (3) interpersonal aspects, and (4) need for a cultural shift. A review of existing literature, research methodology implemented, a review of results including supporting quotes from participant narratives, and a discussion of the results will be presented in this dissertation. A minority stress model adapted for servicewomen will be explored, as well as implications for clinicians and suggestions for future research.

Public Abstract

Women have been involved with the United States military across centuries, volunteering to serve in a range of roles including water bearers, nurses, and saboteurs. The ongoing debate over the role of women in the military has become entangled with the emerging military sexual assault (MSA) crisis. Research has shown sexual assault is a severely underreported event in both civilian and military settings. According to Department of Defense data, in fiscal year 2014 only 1 in 4 victims of sexual assault in the military chose to file a report. This means it is estimated that 3 out of 4 victims chose not to access healthcare or legal services following an assault.

The purpose of this qualitative study is to explore the barriers that servicewomen perceive that prevent them from reporting sexual assaults. This study is novel in using qualitative methodology; to date, studies of this phenomenon have been limited to forced choice survey data. By examining the participants’ narratives, this study found an interaction of external factors, internal processes, and interpersonal interactions either supported or deterred reporting. For the participants, the risks related to reporting proved too high compared to the potential benefits. In environments where the participants felt supported and included, they were more likely to self-advocate. The results of this study overlapped with the Minority Stress Model, and an adaptation of that model is presented. Implications for clinicians and directions for future research are also discussed.


Betrayal Trauma, Military, Minority Stress, Sexual Assault, Sexual Trauma, Women


x, 161 pages


Includes bibliographical references (pages 149-161).


Copyright © 2016 Wendy Jo Rasmussen