Trust Betrayed: Sexual Assault in the Military

Sep 29, 2010 by

Trust Betrayed: Sexual Assault in the Military

“Military sexual trauma (“MST”) is the term that the Department of Veterans Affairs uses to refer to sexual assault or repeated, unsolicited, threating acts of sexual harassment — that occurred while the veteran was in the military.”

Some comments to orient you, the reader, to what MST survivors go through/think like:

* “While in (the Middle East) I was gang-raped by fellow soldiers. They told me if I talked they would kill me, and they would always know where to find me. I went to the MP anyway. They asked me what I expected being a female in combat…”
* “I never told anyone about the rape until I started therapy…”
* “I was very aggressive in trying to prove my ‘manhood.’ I tried in all ways to prove I was not weak and I that I was not homosexual. I did not feel like I was a real man. I carried the shame and guilt with me always. I felt I was at fault. I was weak.”
* “I have attempted suicide six times because of the rape.”
* “I spent two years attempting to track my perpetrator so I could kill him.”

Some facts and figures about Military Sexual Assault, which affects roughly equal numbers of male and female servicemembers (despite the differing percentages of those who serve.)

From a just-released Army report (August, 2010): “One of the more disturbing trends from FY 2001 – FY 2009 is a clear and steady rise in the number of sexual offenses, which have essentially tripled since FY 2003.”

From the 2006 Department of Defense Survey of Active Military: Annual incidence rates of sexual harassment: 34% of women; 6% of men; for unwanted sexual contact: 6.8% of women; 1.8% of men. (Of course, anecdotally, the figures are MUCH higher.)

Other statistics from VA: “Approximately 1 in 5 female patients and 1 in 100 male patients report MST.” (Source: MST Screening Report, FY 2005.)

Total number of veterans who have reported MST in VA (2002-2008): 61,126 men and 59,690 women. (Source: HEC Eligibility Center National MST Report.)

Consequences, according to VA: “More readjustment problems after discharge; more physical health problems; more anxiety, depression and PTSD; more substance abuse; can exacerbate stress reactions to war-zone exposure.”

MST “is associated with increased risk for mental health conditions including, PTSD, depression, substance abuse disorders.” The prevalence of MST among OEF/OIF veterans is 15.1% among females;l 0.7% among males. (These statistics are typically under-reported because of shame and fear of reprisal.)

MST Consequences and PTSD:

Male Gulf War veterans: MST = 6x risk for PTSD; combat = 4x risk for PTSD;

Female Gulf War veterans: MST = 5x risk for PTSD; combat = 4x risk for PTSD;

(Source: Kang, Dalager, Mahan & Ishii, 2005.)

Among VA patients who report MST: 28.1% of women and 18.4% of men report PTSD; 45.6% of women and 28.2% men report depression; 5.9% of women and 9.5% of men report alcohol disorders; 5.2% of women and 7.3% of men report drug disorders.” (Source: Kimerling, R., Gima, K., Smith, M.W. et al., 2007.)

VA Rules:

A veteran does NOT need to be “service-connected” nor have previously reported a sexually traumatic event to be eligible for MST services through the VA. Even veterans who do not meet general eligibility requirements for VA health care are treated for health and mental health consequences of MST (coded ‘ineligible’ or ‘humanitarian’). The veteran with a dishonorable discharge may want to consult with the local MST Coordinator.

The VA uses two questions to screen for military sexual assault:

* While you were in the military, did you receive unwanted sexual attention, such as touching, cornering, pressuring for sexual favors or verbal remarks?
* While you were in the military, did someone ever use force or threats of force or punishment to have sexual contact with you when you did not want to?

If you have been assaulted while serving, please educate yourself about the problem and go to the VA and get help. Maybe bring a trusted friend with you because the process can be difficult to navigate (VA bureaucracy not specifically MST care) “even for healthy people,” according to one veterans’ advocate.

1 Comment

  1. Lily, thank you for another valuable article.


  1. Lily Casura on VetWOW resources for survivors of Military Sexual Trauma — Moments Count - [...] written about military sexual assault on the site before, here. “Military sexual trauma (MST) is the term that the…