The Relationship Between Military Sexual Assault, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Participation Among Women Veterans of the Canadian Armed Forces
military sexual trauma, sexual harassment, sexual assault, PTSD, participation, self-efficacy, social support
Exposure to military sexual assault within the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) has deleterious outcomes for women veterans. A mixed methods retrospective cohort study (n=70) was undertaken to examine the relationship between military sexual assault and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and their association with participation. In addition, the mitigating role of self-efficacy and social support on participation was also explored. Quantitative and qualitative studies were conducted to investigate these associations wherein the quantitative study developed and tested a model using multivariate regression analysis. The quantitative results indicated that military sexual assault, self-efficacy and social support, had a significant association with participation. The qualitative study (n=12) included a sample of women veterans who were interviewed to explore these relationships about how military sexual assault and PTSD affected participation and how social support mitigated these effects. Findings of this study identified four unique contributions to military, trauma, and rehabilitation research. First, participation scores for women in the study were moderate and comparable with other studies of veterans. Second, women veterans who experienced sexual assault had significantly lower participation scores than women who did not. Third, women veterans attributed their participation difficulties to PTSD symptoms. Fourth, self-efficacy and social support were found to be related to participation and had the potential to be mitigating factors in the relationship between military sexual assault, PTSD and participation. In particular, belonging support among peer veterans was particularly important to the women as it had a restorative function in relationships and often led to opportunities to access other types of support. Further research is warranted to build on these findings, including a population level analysis to understand the effects of military sexual assault on participation among other CAF groups. Implementation of an intervention study which bolsters social support may be of benefit to women veterans. Sharing these findings with the CAF and civilian healthcare providers will provide meaningful guidance to address military sexual assault in rehabilitation practice.