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Adversity during military service: the impact of military sexual trauma, emotional bullying and physical assault on the mental health and well-being of women veterans
  1. Laura Josephine Hendrikx1,
  2. V Williamson2,3 and
  3. D Murphy1,2
  1. 1Research Department, Combat Stress, Leatherhead, UK
  2. 2Kings Centre for Military Health Research, King's College London, London, UK
  3. 3Department of Experimental Psychology, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK
  1. Correspondence to Dr D Murphy, Research Department, Combat Stress, Leatherhead, KT22 0BX London, UK; dominic.murphy{at}


Introduction Despite making up about 11% of the UK military, there remains limited investigation on the impact of adversity women experience during their service in the UK military. Military adversity can result in a range of well-being difficulties that may persist following transition out of military. The present study therefore examined the prevalence and correlates of different types of military adversity (defined as sexual harassment, sexual assault, emotional bullying and physical assault) within a community sample of UK women veterans.

Methods Participants were recruited from a UK charity supporting women veterans. 750 women veterans completed an online survey collecting information on sociodemographic and military factors, military adversity, as well as mental health and well-being difficulties. Associations between variables were explored using multivariate logistic regressions.

Results The findings indicate a high prevalence of military adversity (22.5% sexual harassment, 5.1% sexual assault, 22.7% emotional bullying and 3.3% physical assault). Younger women, those who held an officer rank during service and those who reported having a combat or combat support role during service were most at risk of military adversity. All types of adversity were significantly associated with probable post-traumatic stress disorder. Sexual harassment was additionally significantly associated with physical somatisation; sexual assault with alcohol difficulties; and emotional bullying with common mental health difficulties, low social support and loneliness.

Conclusions This study indicates that UK women veterans are at risk of a range of adverse experiences during military service and provides evidence of the impact of such adversities on mental health and well-being. Further research is required to better understand these relationships.

  • mental health
  • preventive medicine
  • adult psychiatry
  • trauma management

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

Statistics from

Data availability statement

Data are available upon reasonable request.

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  • Contributors DM planned the study and conducted the statistical analysis. LJH and VW wrote the manuscript. All authors edited and proof-read the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

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