Sexual Assault in the U.S. Military

Female service members are more likely to be sexually assaulted by a fellow member of the military than shot by an enemy combatant at war. As the reports increase, the controversial military justice system remains intact. The current policy gives commanders authority over the prosecution, often allowing perpetrators to evade accountability. The consequences are dire for survivors and the armed services at large, as the status quo undermines military readiness. 



Play Button Pause Button
0:00 0:00
  • Gabrielle Sierra
    Podcast Host and Producer
Episode Guests
  • Don Christensen
    Colonel, U.S. Air Force, Ret., President, Protect Our Defenders
  • Meghann Myers
    Pentagon Bureau Chief, Military Times
  • Heather Sexton
    Captain, Missouri Army National Guard, Ret.

Show Notes

About one in four servicewomen report being sexually assaulted in the U.S. military during their careers. But all prosecutorial decisions fall in the hands of their commanders. If a survivor comes forward, they often face retaliation and unjust consequences, and less than one percent of cases result in a conviction.


The lack of accountability for perpetrators erodes confidence in the system, often giving survivors no choice but to leave the military. The sexual assault crisis jeopardizes the effectiveness and capabilities of the armed forces. But momentum for change is building. With the support of President Joe Biden, Congress members, military leaders, and activists alike are advocating for sexual assault cases to be handled by an independent body. However, a new announcement from the DoD could spark significant change.



Dig Deeper 


From Meghann Myers


Pentagon unveils new sexual assault response plan - with a deadline of up to 8 years,” Military Times


A culture that fosters sexual assaults and sexual harassment persists despite prevention efforts, a new Pentagon study shows,” Military Times


Military needs commanders who truly don’t support sexual assault, commission concludes,” Military Times


From CFR


Demographics of the U.S. Military,” Editors


Read More


‘A Poison in the System’: The Epidemic of Military Sexual Assault,” New York Times


Biden endorses a major change in how the military handles sexual assault cases., New York Times


The Two Men Blocking Military Sexual Assault Reform,” New York Times


Facts on United States Military Sexual Violence” [PDF], Protect Our Defenders


Embattled: Retaliation against Sexual Assault Survivors in the US Military,” Human Rights Watch


The National Guard welcomes and promotes women. That is, until they report a sexual assault,” USA Today


Six Men Tell Their Stories of Sexual Assault in the Military,” New York Times


House Passes Defense Policy-Bill with Military-Justice Provision,” Wall Street Journal


Watch and Listen


The Invisible War,” PBS


Congress takes on sexual assault in the military,” Today, Explained


Technology and Innovation

For years, the world thought of the internet as a borderless zone that brought people from around the world together. But as governments pursue very different regulatory paths, the monolithic internet is breaking apart. Now, where there had been one, there are at least three internets: one led by the United States, one by China, and one by the European Union.

International Organizations

The 2022 FIFA World Cup has kicked off in Qatar, and billions of fans worldwide are tuning in to the world’s most popular live event. And yet as in years past, the Qatar Cup is transpiring under the shadow of controversy.

Top Stories on CFR


This interactive examines how nationwide bans on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, as proposed by the Biden administration on April 28, 2022, could help shrink the racial gap on U.S. lung cancer death rates.


Sheila Smith, the John E. Merow senior fellow for Asia-Pacific studies at the Council, sits down with James M. Lindsay to discuss the reasoning behind Japan’s new defense strategy and the Japanese government’s decision to double defense spending.

United States

In addition to minority communities and those on the political left, far-right and white supremacist extremism threatens violence against institutions conservatives cherish as well, such as the U.S. military.