Date of Graduation


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Education (Ed.D.)


School of Education


Leadership Studies


Organization & Leadership EdD

First Advisor

Patricia Mitchell

Second Advisor

Richard Johnson

Third Advisor

Walter Gmelch


Military sexual trauma (MST) occurs at devastating rates to service members, by service members, and is widely misunderstood, qualitatively understudied, and reporting may be procedurally biased. The purpose of this study was to phenomenologically explore the lived experiences of female veteran MST survivors with their leadership (chain of command/supervisors) and understand how military culture effects these individuals. A feminist-theory conceptual framework was applied to contextualize hegemonic hypermasculine military culture and the divide and damage it may cause to female service members before MST, when surviving an MST event, and when surviving post-MST fallout.

This study included 10 participants who were female, experienced MST, and served in the military for at least 90 days. Through qualitative inquiry, participants were interviewed by telephone between July 2019 and September 2019. Each interview was recorded, transcribed, and analyzed using interpretive phenomenological analysis.

Data showed participants who did not report their MST to their leadership failed to do so due to fear of reprisal in situations ranging from being threatened with maltreatment to retaliation/reprisal, the supervisor being the perpetrator, and ostracism. Those who did report their MST had negative experiences, including victim blaming by their leadership, shaming, taking no action, betrayal, retaliation, and ostracism.

Participants tolerated sexual harassment as the norm or, as one participant noted, “My other duty station, it was great. There was sexual harassment, but again, it’s not as bad as the other thing.” Military culture post-MST included a lack of support/mental health counseling, having to pretend it did not happen and continue to work (and live) with the perpetrator, often as their supervisor, and perpetrators with no consequences. Participants reported effects of MST including suicide attempts, dissociation, depression, anxiety, trust and relational issues, emotion and mood dysregulation, substance abuse, low self-worth, social isolation, intense fear, health problems, loss of career and employment potential, avoidance, and intense shame.

Female service members face extreme difficulty with reporting MST, that may be exacerbated by policy and military culture, forming a procedurally flawed and damaging system. Several recommendations are presented for future practice and research.