The importance of distinguishing between harassment-only and assault military sexual trauma during screening

Rebecca K. Blais, Emily Brignone, Jamison D. Fargo, Whitney S. Livingston, Felicia J. Andresen

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Extant research demonstrates that a history of military sexual trauma (MST) is associated with PTSD and depression diagnoses as well as heightened risk for suicidal ideation and death by suicide. Past studies of MST and its sequelae typically collapse harassment-only and assault MST screening items into a single response, recorded as positive or negative for a history of MST. It is presently unclear whether assault is associated with poorer mental health outcomes relative to harassment-only MST. Female service members/Veterans (n = 656) completed an online survey assessing history (present, absent) and type (harassment-only, assault) of MST, PTSD, depression, sexual satisfaction and function symptoms, as well as suicidal ideation. Findings revealed that those who reported a history of MST, and assault more specifically, were more likely to report higher PTSD symptoms and probable PTSD diagnosis, higher depression symptoms and probable depression diagnosis, worse sexual function and probable sexual function diagnosis, lower sexual satisfaction, and presence of suicidal ideation. Those who reported harassment-only MST also reported higher PTSD severity and probable PTSD diagnosis, but the magnitude of the association of harassment-only MST and PTSD severity relative to assault MST and PTSD severity was substantially lower. Findings suggest it is critical to distinguish between history and type of MST during screening as a combined screening item loses sensitivity to identify those at heightened risk for distress and dysfunction.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)227-232
Number of pages6
JournalMilitary Psychology
Issue number3
StatePublished - May 4 2019
Externally publishedYes


  • females
  • Military sexual trauma
  • screening
  • Veterans

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • General Psychology


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