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Number of Military Sexual Assaults and Unplanned Pregnancies Increases

by Wendy Innes, published

military sexual assault Cameron Whitman /

Even though there are free family planning services, the number of unplanned pregnancies is on the rise in the military, right along with the number of sexual assaults.

Research suggests that despite some now infamous comments from certain politicians, rape does in fact result in pregnancy more often than consensual sex because of the changes in chemistry that occur during the assault and other changes that women experience during the time they are most likely to get pregnant.

In addition, women who are raped and find themselves pregnant face harsh retaliation if they report the crime and a "secondary victimization" when they seek medical attention. Because of this, more than 80 percent never report the crime and just seek prenatal care, which many say is inferior to civilian care.

High Number of Unplanned Pregnancies

According to the Service Women's Action Network (SWAN), 65 percent of military pregnancies are unintended. While specific numbers are unknown as to how many of those pregnancies are the product of rape, SWAN and others make the implication that it's likely more than most people think.

A study in the February edition of Obstetrics and Gynecology says the rate of unplanned pregnancies in the military is nearly 50 percent higher than in the civilian world, and further note that the high number of sexual assaults could be a factor. Since 20 to 40 percent of women experience some form of rape or attempted rape during their career, it's an easy correlation to make.

The Science Behind Rape Pregnancy

There is a growing body of evidence that suggests rape victims can be targeted based on their ability to become pregnant. When coupled with physiological changes that occur in the attacker's body during the assault, a pregnancy is more likely to occur.

A study published in Human Nature makes the case that not only can rape victims become pregnant, but a victim is more than twice as likely to become pregnant as a result of the attack when compared to the likelihood under consensual circumstances.

The study further suggested that sexual predators are more attracted to women who display cues of fertility. These are biological cues the woman doesn't consciously have control over.

The researchers are not alone in their conclusion.

"Rapists don't pick victims at random," Gordon Gallup, an evolutionary biologist at SUNY-Albany, says in his book The Oxford Handbook of Sexual Conflict in Humans. "Unbeknownst to them, rapists clearly target victims based on their likelihood of conception. They tend to preferentially target young, post-pubescent females that are in their reproductive prime."

The rapist's semen also plays a role Gallup says in an interview with Popsci. He explained that there are two hormones present in semen that are required for female ovulation, follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH).

However, only FSH is necessary for sperm production; the presence of LH is a mystery. Gallup hypothesizes that a rapist's semen has higher levels of these hormones in response to the actual attack, which could account for the increased number of pregnancies.

Options for Service Women

Until recently, emergency contraceptives, which must be used within 72 hours of the sexual assault, were not available on military bases. While that isn't really a huge problem if the woman is stateside where she can go to a regular pharmacy, if the attack occurred while deployed, it is a bigger issue.

In addition to the retaliation that is rampant when it comes to reports of sexual assault, pregnancy means that a woman has to be sent home from deployment, costing thousands of dollars, work hours, and negatively affecting unit readiness which reflects poorly on the female service member. This is part of the "secondary victimization" that occurs in cases of military sexual assault.

A servicewoman also could choose to abort the baby. In the United States, about 43 percent of all unwanted pregnancies end in abortion.

Thanks to an amendment to the 2013 National Defense Appropriations Act (NDAA), servicewomen now have the option of having an abortion at a military facility at no cost if the pregnancy was the result of rape. Before this amendment was added to the NDAA, a woman had to pay for the procedure out of her own pocket.

While these recent changes are great, there is still more that could be done to support the victims of military sexual assault to ensure they feel comfortable reporting these crimes and getting the treatment they need.


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