Lesbian, gay and bisexual members in the U.S. military are at higher risk for sexual harassment, sexual assault and stalking, a new study reports.
And that sexual victimization can trigger mental health problems such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance use and suicidal behavior, researchers say.
They surveyed 544 active-duty U.S. service members, including 41% who identified as LGBTQ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and/or questioning), and 10% who identified as trans or gender-nonconforming.
Those who identified as gay, lesbian or bisexual were more likely to report sexual harassment, stalking and sexual assault than heterosexuals.
Gay and bisexual men were much more likely to report sexual harassment than straight men. Women were more likely than men to report sexual harassment, but the risk was no higher among those who identified as lesbian or bisexual, the survey found.
"Our conclusion was that female service members have such an elevated risk of sexual harassment in general, that being bi or lesbian doesn't increase that risk," said lead author Ashley Schuyler, a doctoral student in public health and human sciences at Oregon State University.
"Our findings suggest that LGBTQ service members do experience an elevated risk of sexual and stalking victimization, even in this post-'don't ask, don't tell' era," Schuyler said in a university news release.
The don't ask, don't tell law -- which barred openly gay, lesbian and bisexual people from serving in the U.S. military -- was repealed in 2011. But Schuyler said "it seems like some of those effects could linger, including sexual prejudice and discrimination, which may elevate victimization risk."
Military culture emphasizes "masculine" ideals such as dominance, aggression and self-sufficiency, which may lead some to target people they consider weaker, according to the researchers.
More investigation into victimization in the military is needed, especially as the policies governing LGBTQ service continue to change, the study authors said.
The U.S. Department of Defense study was recently published in the Journal of Traumatic Stress.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more on LGBTQ health.