Characterizing the Influence of Exposure to Military Sexual Trauma and Intimate Partner Violence on Mental Health Outcomes among Female Veterans

Carrie Esopenko, Nicola de Souza, Elisabeth A. Wilde, Kristen Dams-O’Connor, Ellen Teng, Deleene S. Menefee

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Military sexual trauma (MST) has deleterious long-term psychological consequences. Among female U.S. military members, MST is associated with increased risk for future interpersonal victimization, such as experiencing intimate partner violence (IPV). Few studies have investigated the implications of the cumulative effects of IPV and MST on psychological functioning. This study examined rates of co-exposure to MST, IPV, and their cumulative impact on psychological symptoms. Data were collected from 308 female Veterans (FVets; age: M = 42, SD = 10.4) enrolled in an inpatient trauma-focused treatment program in a Veterans Administration (VA) hospital. Data were collected at program admission on symptoms of posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, and current suicidal ideation. Lifetime trauma exposure was assessed using semi-structured interviews that identified adverse childhood events (ACEs) and combat theater deployment as well as MST and IPV. Group differences on psychological symptoms were examined among those exposed to MST, IPV, MST + IPV, and compared to FVets with ACEs or combat exposure, but no other adulthood interpersonal trauma (NAIT). Half of the sample (51%) reported experiencing both MST and IPV, approximately 29% reported MST, 10% reported IPV, and 10% reported NAIT. FVets in the MST + IPV group had worse PTSD and depression symptoms than either the MST or IPV groups. The NAIT group had the lowest scores on these measures. There were no group differences in current suicidal ideation; however, 53.5% reported at least one previous suicide attempt. FVets in this sample reported significant lifetime exposure to MST and IPV, with the majority having experienced MST + IPV. Exposure to MST + IPV was associated with greater PTSD and depression symptom severity, yet an overwhelming proportion reported current and past suicidal ideation regardless of trauma exposure history. These results demonstrate the importance of assessing for lifetime interpersonal trauma history when developing and providing mental and medical health interventions for FVets.

Original languageEnglish
JournalJournal of Interpersonal Violence
StateAccepted/In press - 2023


  • Military Personnel
  • Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
  • Psychological Health
  • Trauma Exposure
  • Treatment


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