Informing military sexual violence prevention: An exploration of individual, relational, and cultural factors



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The need for more effective sexual violence prevention in the U.S. military has been widely recognized, with 40% of female veterans and 4-6% of male veterans reporting sexual harassment, assault, and rape (e.g., Barth et al., 2016; Bryan, Bryan, & Clemans, 2015). The Center for Disease Control proposed a multi-level model for preventing sexual violence, which includes individual, relational, and cultural factors. Yet, there has been little empirical exploration of sociocultural factors related to sexual aggression in military communities (Harway & Steel, 2015). Previous research has identified individual and relational factors associated with sexual aggression in civilian and military samples, including beliefs about gender and masculinity (e.g., Abbey et al., 2005; Loh et al., 2005), rape-supportive attitudes (e.g., Abbey & McAuslan, 2004; Foubert & Masin, 2012), and perceived peer tolerance for sexual violence (Abbey et al., 2001; Fabiano et al., 2003). However, attempts to address individual beliefs and behaviors without considering the surrounding system or subculture that reinforces them has been identified as ineffective for long-term change (DeGue et al., 2012). Consistent with Baron and Straus’s (1987) integrated theory of rape, scholars have identified masculine values and gendered social power (Brownmiller, 1975; Casey & Lindhorst, 2009), as well as cultural tolerance for sanctioned violence (Casey & Lindhorst, 2009; Sanday, 1981) as possible cultural factors affecting sexual violence in the military. The present study sought to assess individual, relational, and theorized cultural factors in relation to sexual aggression in a diverse military sample. Factors from each of these levels were associated with sexual aggression, but greater perceived peer tolerance for sexual aggression and perceived cultural tolerance for violence arose as the strongest independent predictors. Implications for understanding correlates of military sexual violence and developing of a more comprehensive and theoretically-driven sexual violence prevention program in the U.S. military are discussed.



Sexual violence, Military