Military male-on-male sex assault study retracted, psychologists defend similar findings

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A flawed study led to a rare retraction from a top psychology journal. Its finding – that military men sexually assaulted their fellow men in uniform 15 times more often than reported – was withdrawn. However, similar findings in other articles were not.

The American Psychological Association backed off its self-published study, entitled “Preliminary Data Suggest Rates of Male Sexual Trauma May be Higher than Previously Reported” on Sunday night, after outside experts questioned its methodology.

“Although the article went through our standard peer-review process, other scholars have since examined the data and raised valid concerns regarding the design and statistical analysis, which compromised the findings,” Gary R. VandenBos, publisher of the Psychology Services journal, said in the retraction statement.

“One article having some problems with its statistical analysis should not undo the power and facts of the other 12 articles as a collection,” VandenBos added.

The November 2 edition of Psychology Services did not retract any of the findings in the 12 accompanying articles, however, meaning it’s still widely accepted by psychologists that rape and other sexual assaults go under-reported by both men and women victims, but a hard number is yet to be determined.

The retracted article cited “barriers associated with stigma, beliefs in myths about male rape, and feelings of helplessness” as the main reasons why male-on-male incidents are under-reported, claiming they actually occur 15 times more frequently than is documented. Those observations are consistent with findings by other psychologists.

“It seems to have to do with retribution, with dominance, with power – a lot of the dynamics we typically see in rape,” Dr. Jessica Keith, program manager for The Center of Sexual Trauma Services, told HuffPost Live.

Psychologist Dr. Sean Sheppard of the University of Utah was the lead researcher of the retracted study. His survey began with a “yes” or “no” question: “I was sexually assaulted while serving in the military.”

The last military-run survey addressing sexual assault, carried out by Rand Corp., showed that 12,000 active duty men reported being victims, with nearly a third describing “penetrative,” or rape, attacks.

The new retracted study claimed that Rand’s numbers had, in fact, been 15 times too low. A Rand spokesman confirmed with the Washington Times on Monday that its researchers were the ones who had pushed the APA to retract it.

An APA spokeswoman told the Military Times on Monday that they publish between 4,500 and 5,000 articles each year, and that this most recent retraction is only its third of the year.