Date of Conferral



Doctor of Social Work (DSW)


Human Services


Barbara Benoliel


Military sexual assault continues to be a persistent problem for the Department of Defense despite the development of new reporting procedures. A sexual assault in the military can cause a lapse in mission accomplishment, negatively interrupt the victim's career, and lead personnel to fail at meeting high standards and expectations. The management of sexual assault complaints in the military has not been effective in preventing sexual assaults from occurring. This grounded theory study looked to explain how military leadership approaches the sexual assault complaint management process. Bronfenbrenner's (1979) ecological model of human development was the conceptual lens used for this study. Data were collected and analyzed from a sample of 20 ex-Air Force leaders using internet-based open-ended questions. Data analysis included first- and second-cycle coding, theoretical sampling, reflection, and ultimately the construction of a substantive theory. The study identified a bio-social operative (BSO) theory that suggests operational management of sexual assault complaints must encompass positive relationships between leaders and subordinates, coupled with constructive sexual assault prevention strategies and the eradication of preconditions such as biasness. This study contributes to social change through discovery of a theory that may provide military leaders and researchers with insights on how sexual assault complaint management is perceived from former military leaders. It also provides a basis for the development of future support programs that are tailored to the specific needs of military populations. These findings may ultimately raise awareness and contribute to the well-being and quality of life of military personnel.