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Military should take public health approach to prevent sexual assault, researcher says

Friday, September 09, 2016

LAWRENCE — Military policies addressing sexual assault are often conducted at a time of crisis at the risk of glossing over the ongoing severity and influence of the problem, according to a University of Kansas researcher studying gender integration of the military.

Among topics at Wednesday's presidential candidate forum, news coverage focused on strengthening prosecution of sexual assault in the military.

Alesha Doan, associate professor in the School of Public Affairs & Administration and Department of Political Science, is available to discuss policies surrounding sexual assault and women in combat roles. Doan and Shannon Portillo, associate professor in the School of Public Affairs & Administration, recently published a study on gender integration of U.S. Army Special Forces jobs and are available to discuss this topic.

Based on 28 focus groups, they interviewed 198 soldiers and conducted surveys with 1,701 men and 214 women all involved in Special Forces jobs from October 2013 to February 2014 at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and Fort Leavenworth in Kansas.

Doan said focusing solely on stronger prosecution of sexual assault in the military underscores a limited understanding of the problem.

"While prosecutorial measures are necessary, they fail to completely address or understand the needs of the thousands of victims who do not report their sexual assault," Doan said.

Also, characterizing sexual assault as a natural consequence of integrating the military is not accurate, she said, and research surrounding gender stereotypes in the military indicates military leaders would be better served to take a public health approach to addressing and preventing sexual assault.

She said as part of their study, while male soldiers believed female soldiers would be more vulnerable to sexual violence while deployed, female soldiers often reported they faced the most severe sexual harassment from American male colleagues instead of from male nationals overseas.

"An important component of any evidence-based prevention strategy in the military has to include specific efforts at engaging men to examine their social norms," Doan said. "Deconstruct gender stereotypes and negative conceptualizations of masculinity, and educate and empower men in their role as active bystanders who can help curb sexual violence."

Doan is also principal investigator of a three-year, $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that will aid colleges and universities in three states in adopting sexual assault policies and prevention strategies.

For more information or to interview Doan, contact George Diepenbrock at 785-864-8853 or gdiepenbrock@ku.edu.


Ruth DeWitt, Communications Manager
KU School of Public Affairs and Administration
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