Sheila Procella joined the Air Force in 1974 to “see the Earth,” she said. She enlisted at the tail end of the Vietnam War, shortly after graduating high school.
A 2015 study published by the American Psychological Association asked 327 female veterans in Southern California about their experiences with sexual trauma. They divided the respondents into two groups — those who served before the terrorist attack on Sept. 11, 2001, and those in uniform afterward. Nearly half of those in the earlier group reported sexual contact against their will during their military service. In the later group, reports of unwanted sexual contact dropped to 30 percent.
A majority of those who reported sexual abuse met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis, the researchers said.
And a study published last year in the journal Women’s Health Issues found that women ages 45 to 54 reported more sexual harassment and assault while in the military than other age groups.
“I was struck by the idea that it wasn’t just younger women,” said Carolyn Gibson, a women’s health research fellow at the San Francisco VA Medical Center and co-author of that study.
The research also found that the association between sexual trauma and its negative effects on health — such as cardiovascular disease, substance abuse and other physical and mental illnesses — was most pronounced among female veterans ages 45 to 64.
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