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Sorting out the truth in politics

Sen. Gillibrand is accurate about rates of sexual misconduct in military

The statement

"One in five" women in the military "are receiving unwanted sexual contact," as are "3.3 percent of men."

U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., in an interview with MSNBC

The ruling

In an interview with MSNBC, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand offered a striking statistic about sexual misconduct in the military.

"We've had sexual assaults in the military forever," Gillibrand said, but "a new report the DOD published found is that one in five … women are receiving unwanted sexual contact, but also 3.3 percent of men."

The report Gillibrand mentioned is the Health-Related Behaviors Survey of Active Duty Military Personnel from the U.S. Defense Department. (Gillibrand shorthands the agency as the DOD). The study, which samples tens of thousands of members of the military anonymously, is undertaken every three years. The just-released report covers 2011, addressing such issues as alcohol and tobacco use, mental health and other issues.

The study found that 21.7 percent of women had experienced "unwanted sexual contact … since joining the military, by someone in the military." (It found that 5.8 percent had experienced unwanted sexual contact by a civilian since joining.)

The comparable percentage for men experiencing unwanted sexual contact was 3.3 percent (by a member of the military) and 2.4 percent (by a civilian).

So Gillibrand has accurately reported the percentages. The only element of her claim that's slightly misleading is that she referred to service members who "are receiving unwanted sexual contact." That makes it sound like they are currently having unwanted contact or had it in the recent past.

In fact, the statistics refer to unwanted contact "since joining the military," which, for some survey respondents with long tenures in the military, may have been years ago.

It's worth noting that the percentages have risen since the 2008 survey. That year, 12.4 percent of women and 2.2 percent of men had experienced unwanted contact. (The 2008 survey did not distinguish between contact by members of the military and civilians.)

The report is unclear about whether the increase from 2008 to 2011 stems from a rise in the number of incidents or fuller reporting of the incidents. Whatever the reason, the report did say that "reported rates of unwanted sexual contact, particularly among female service members, warrant attention and action."

We rate this claim Mostly True.

Edited for print. Read the full version at

Sen. Gillibrand is accurate about rates of sexual misconduct in military 04/29/13 [Last modified: Monday, April 29, 2013 9:02pm]
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