An Analysis of Sexual Assault in the U.S. Military, 2004-2009


  • Adam Lankford The University of Alabama


From 2004 to 2009, U.S. military reports of sexual assault increased by 90%.  Whether this reflects a real increase in sexual assaults, or just an increase in reporting, the Department of Defense has committed to reducing the prevalence of these brutal crimes.  In order to better understand the problem of sexual assault and how it can be addressed, it is important to put this criminal behavior in its proper context.  Previous research has identified several key reasons why military personnel are more likely to commit sexual assault during periods of war than they are in peacetime, including heightened (1) desires for power, (2) desires for sexual fulfillment, and (3) beliefs that there will be no consequences.  This paper reviews this literature and presents initial evidence that these same factors may be contributing to the U.S. military’s current problem with sexual assault.  Preliminary findings suggest that in the post 9/11 world, service members have increasingly struggled with compensatory desires for power, sexual frustrations abroad, and overly permissive environments where swift and serious punishments for bad behavior are far too rare.

Author Biography

Adam Lankford, The University of Alabama

Adam Lankford is an assistant professor of criminal justice at The University of Alabama. From
2003 to 2008, he helped coordinate senior executive antiterrorism forums for high-ranking foreign military and security personnel in conjunction with the U.S. State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance program. He has published extensively on aggression, violence, counterterrorism, and international security, and his research has
been featured by media outlets in a number of countries including Austria, Canada, Denmark, Germany, Sweden, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States.