Jamie Leavey, Psy.D., is a 2023 graduate of the Psy.D. Program in Clinical Psychology at Antioch University, New England
- Karen Meteyer, PhD, Committee Chair
- Col Dawn Eflein, JD, LLM, BSN, RN, USAF, Retired, Committee Member
- Lt Col James Meredith, PhD, ABPP, ABMP, USAF, Retired, Committee Member
acquittal, court-martial, false accusation, legal trauma, military justice system, sexual assault
Policy makers are tasked with changing laws and improving systemic processes in response to evolving moral standards. As societal outrage grew regarding sexual assault in the military, those in power sought to balance what was perceived as a system that ignored, retaliated against, or unfairly burdened victims. However, as the pendulum swung toward victims’ rights and privileges, those accused of this crime inherited the burden of an imbalanced system. In the military context, the experience of the accused is impacted by the lack of separation between functional domains of life (e.g., work, home, community), multiple roles of military commanders (e.g., providing supervision and support as well as being a decision authority for prosecution), and problematic mandatory training that has included misinformation and may have biased court members. Researchers have not previously studied the experience of a court-martial, nor considered the far-reaching impact of the experiences that precede and follow acquittal. The purpose of this study was to explore the psychological and functional consequences for military members that were accused and acquitted of sexual assault through the court-martial process. Analysis was qualitative with a phenomenological approach to identify common themes and more broadly, the essence at the core of the experience. I found that this experience significantly impacted participants while it was happening and in the time since acquittal. Using themes identified by Brooks and Greenberg (2020) with regard to experiencing a false accusation, I determined that most identified themes were salient to the experience of acquitted service members (e.g., loss of identity, stigma, psychological and physical health, relationships with others, attitudes toward the justice system, impact on finances and employment, and adjustment difficulties). I offer recommendations to mitigate these negative effects. With this information, policymakers and military leaders can more effectively consider the unintended effects of well-intentioned systemic change on those accused of sexual assault in the military.
Leavey, J. (2023). With Liberty and Justice for All: Psychological and Functional Consequences for Service Members Acquitted of Sexual Assault. https://aura.antioch.edu/etds/909