Service Status and Sexual Offending? An Analysis of Repeat Behaviors

Service Status and Sexual Offending? An Analysis of Repeat Behaviors

Featured Article

Factors Associated with Repeat Sexual Offending among U.S. Military Veterans Compared to Civilians | 2022, Vol. 21, No. 2, 120-132


Stephanie Brooks Holliday; RAND Corporation, Santa Monica, California, USA

Shoba Sreenivasan; California Department of State Hospitals, Los Angeles, California, USA

Eric Elbogen; Durham VA Medical Center, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, North Carolina, USA

David Thornton; Forensic Assessment, Training & Research (FAsTR), LLC, Madison, Wisconsin, USA

Jim McGuire; Justice Programs, Veterans Health Administration, Los Angeles, CA, USA


Veterans have higher rates of incarceration for sexual offenses than non-veterans, but little is known about the factors associated with repeat sexual offending among veterans. This study used the Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities to examine whether the factors associated with repeat sexual offending differ between veterans and non-veterans. In a multivariate logistic regression, there were significant interactions between veteran status and both age and race. Diagnosis of personality disorder and history of violation of conditional release were also associated with repeat offense status. Findings can help inform intervention and risk management with veterans.


Veteran; sexual offense; sexual recidivism; predictors; incarceration

Summary of the Research

“Military veterans represent approximately 8% of the 2.2 million people incarcerated in jails and prisons in the United States, and have lower rates of incarceration than civilians…However, across large national surveys, a higher proportion of veterans than civilians have a history of sexual offending behavior…It remains unclear whether, or how, the experience of serving in the military increases risk for civilian sexual offending. It is also unclear whether the factors associated with repeat offending are similar for military veterans and civilians who have committed sexual offenses…The present study aims to examine whether military-relevant factors (e.g., PTSD) and known risk factors for sexual recidivism in civilians (e.g., noncompliance with supervision and conditional release; having unrelated victims; personality disorder…) are associated with sexual reoffending behavior in veterans. To explore this question, we used the Survey of Inmates in State and Federal Correctional Facilities, 2004” (p. 120).

“Addressing the research gap on sexual offending among veterans has important clinical implications, as a key first step to managing risk is understanding what factors increase risk…For all veterans served by VJP [Veterans Justice Program], treatment matching, service provision, and housing and job placement inherently involve assessments of risk…As such, risk assessments guided by empirical data that is veteran-specific is a critical need…This study addresses the relatively scant scientific research on military veterans who have committed sexual offenses by investigating risk factors predictive of repeat sexual offending – that is, those with more than one arrest, conviction, or sentencing occasion for sexual offending…Our goal with this study was to examine whether the factors associated with repeat offending are different for veterans than for their civilian counterparts for engaging in repeat sexual offending…” (p. 122).

“In this sample, a similar proportion of veterans and civilians were classified as having a history of repeat sexual offenses (11.1% and 12.7%, respectively)…Broadly speaking, our findings suggest that veterans with single versus repeat offenses are similar with respect to most characteristics examined. That is, both groups tended to have similar rates of high school diplomas/GEDs, tended to be unmarried, and often were employed full-time prior to their incarceration. They also had similar rates of drug abuse, prior criminal histories, and childhood sexual abuse. Veterans with repeat offenses had higher rates of PTSD (15.6%) than veterans without repeat offenses (8.6%)…” (p. 127-128).


“…Though the focus of this manuscript was examining differences between civilians and veterans with regard to repeat offense status, we examined whether history of combat exposure differed for those with and without repeat offenses, though there was no significant association. This suggests that other aspects of military service may be contributing to the increased rates of sexual offending behavior in veterans. This could include military culture…Bivariate analyses suggested there may be significant interactions between veteran status and age, race, and education…the association between older age and repeat offense status was stronger in veterans, as was the association between ‘other’ race and repeat offense status…” (p. 128).

Translating Research into Practice

“Two other factors were associated with repeat offense status, but were not veteran- or civilian-specific. These were a diagnosis of personality disorder and history of violation of conditional release…suggests that the factors that predict repeat offense status may be similar for veterans and civilians. One important implication of this finding is that risk assessment instruments developed and validated with civilian populations may also be relevant when assessing risk in veterans. For example, commonly used measures such as the Static-99R/2002R (Helmus et al., 2012), Sex Offender Risk Appraisal Guide (SORAG) (Rice & Harris, 2016), and Sexual Violence Risk-20 (SVR-20) (Boer et al., 1997) assess factors such as prior convictions for non-sexual offenses, diagnosis of a personality disorder, and failure on conditional release. This knowledge has the potential to benefit the systems that serve veterans following release from incarceration, as it gives them the basis for assessing risk and developing treatment plans that directly address any risk factors that are present. That said, though these instruments may serve as a starting point for risk assessment with veterans, it will be important to further validate any instruments specifically for use with this population, especially in prospective studies of recidivism risk” (p. 128).

“…the current findings have important implications for clinical practice and policy. First, a relatively small proportion of veterans (and civilians) were classified as having repeat sexual offenses. This is important to keep in mind when serving veteran populations: the rate of sexual offending behavior is quite low, and rates of recidivism may be equally low. Secondly, our findings also suggest that the factors that predict repeat sexual offenses are largely similar for veterans and civilians. As noted, this finding suggests that it is possible or likely that existing structured risk assessment tools might be useful to use with veterans…Another option is the Violence Risk Assessment Instrument-Sexual (VRAI-S), a structured professional judgment instrument assessing violence risk factors that was developed specifically for the VA and was based largely on meta-analyses of risk factors for sexual offending…” (p. 129-130).

“Third, though our descriptive analyses do not directly speak to risk factors for reoffending, they do provide insight into the treatment needs of veterans with a history of sexual offending. For example, rates of unemployment were somewhat lower among veterans than civilians in this population. However, the proportion of veterans at risk for homelessness was similar to civilians and suggests an important clinical need…Fourth, the results highlighted other salient clinical needs among veterans. Rates of PTSD were somewhat higher in veterans than civilians in this sample, and alcohol abuse was common. An understanding of the clinical needs of veterans incarcerated for sexual offenses is important to ensuring that needed services are available upon release. For example, this may suggest the importance of targeted referral and case management efforts to ensure that they connect with needed mental health and/or substance use services. These services are available through the VA; therefore, VJP clinicians may be particularly well-suited for connecting veterans being released from incarceration with treatment” (p. 130).

Additional Resources/Programs

Other Interesting Tidbits for Researchers and Clinicians

“Researchers have explored multiple explanations for the connection between military service and sexual offending. Some have focused on whether combat exposure or wartime service increase risk for sexual offending…Others have examined whether aspects of military culture contribute to risk of sexual aggression. For example, there have been reports indicative of an increase in sexual assaults in the military, theorized to possibly be due to deployment stressors as well as a culture of ‘hypermasculinity’ in the military…Finally, some have suggested that sexual offending behavior in military veterans may reflect a combination of pre-service vulnerabilities, such as sexual trauma or childhood abuse; in-service factors such as military training, combat exposure, other deployment stress; and post-service adjustment issues, such as difficulty transitioning to civilian society due to a lack of sense of belonging, consequent maladaptive coping such as hypersexuality…” (p. 120-121).