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‘We need a culture change’: Military sexual trauma through the lens of rape culture

APA Citation:

Johnson, N. L., Gutekunst, M. H. C., Robinett, S., & Lipp, N. S. (2024). ‘We need a culture change’: Military sexual trauma through the lens of rape culture. Culture, Health & Sexuality, 26(3), 285-302. https://doi.org/10.1080/13691058.2023.2202715

Abstract Created by REACH:

This study explored Service member (n = 9) and Veteran (n = 33) perceptions of military sexual trauma (MST) through the lens of rape culture (i.e., environments wherein sexual assault and abuse are normalized) to better understand the perpetuation of sexual trauma, barriers to reporting, and prevention efforts in the military. Active-duty Service members and Veterans (52.5% men) responded to open-ended questions in an online survey. Content analysis was used to identify themes within the qualitative data. Many themes were identified; aspects of rape culture appeared to perpetuate MST and create reporting barriers.



Branch of Service:

Air Force
Marine Corps
Coast Guard
Multiple branches

Military Affiliation:

Active Duty

Subject Affiliation:

Active duty service member


Adulthood (18 yrs & older)
Young adulthood (18 - 29 yrs)
Thirties (30 - 39 yrs)
Middle age (40 - 64 yrs)


Cross sectional study
Qualitative Study


Johnson, Nicole L., Gutekunst, Malaïka H. C., Robinett, Shelia, Lipp, Natania S.


Military sexual trauma remains a critical concern within the US military. One possible explanation for the persistence of this trauma is the presence of rape culture. This study examined perceptions of military sexual trauma within the framework of rape culture (i.e. traditional gender roles, sexism, adversarial sexual beliefs, hostility toward women, and acceptance of violence), in addition to associated factors, to address the US Department of Defense’s call to focus on the role of culture on military sexual trauma. Focusing on culture is important as subtle norms in culture shape our behaviour and impact the excusal/perpetration of military sexual trauma. Identifying these norms may provide insight into factors to target in prevention efforts to reduce/eliminate military sexual trauma. Forty-two US service members responded to a series of open-ended questions. Standard content analysis procedures were utilised to determine themes. Results paint a complex picture of military sexual trauma, with participants demonstrating concern regarding military sexual trauma, but minimal acknowledgement of behaviour change to reduce military sexual trauma. These results are consistent with the observed increase in prevalence of military sexual trauma and decrease in reporting of it since 2018. Adding to the existing literature, participants noted the continued existence of rape culture within the military and the need for cultural change to address military sexual trauma.

Publication Type:

REACH Publication


reporting/disclosure, sexual assault, sexual harassment, situational factors

View Research Summary:

REACH Publication Type:

Research Summary

REACH Newsletter:

  August 2023

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