Military Sexual Trauma: Understanding the Impact and Seeking Help

Introduction

Military sexual trauma (MST) has been a long-standing issue in the armed forces. MST refers to any sexual harassment, assault, or abuse experienced by service members during their time in service. This can happen to both men and women and can occur during peacetime or deployment. Despite the efforts of the military to address and prevent MST, it continues to be a prevalent problem that affects the mental health and well-being of the individuals who experience it. In this article, we will delve deeper into the impact of MST on service members and the resources available to help them.

The Impact of MST

The impact of MST goes beyond the physical harm that may result from the assault. MST can cause anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), sleep disorders, and sexual dysfunction. It can also lead to substance abuse, suicidal ideation, and difficulty maintaining interpersonal relationships. Service members who experience MST may feel isolated, ashamed, and fearful of retaliation if they report the incident. The stigma attached to sexual assault and harassment can also prevent service members from seeking the help they need.

Prevalence of MST

The prevalence of MST in the military is difficult to determine accurately due to underreporting. According to a report by the Department of Defense, an estimated 20,500 service members experienced sexual assault or unwanted sexual contact in 2018. This represents a 38% increase since 2016. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault, with approximately 23% reporting incidents compared to 5% of men. However, it is essential to note that men can also experience MST and may face additional barriers in reporting their experience due to stigma and stereotypes around masculinity in the military.

Reporting MST

Reporting MST can be a daunting process for service members. The military has implemented several measures to encourage reporting and ensure that victims receive support and justice. Service members who experience MST can report the incident through various channels, including their chain of command, military law enforcement agencies, and the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program. Reporting to the SAPR program triggers a Victim Advocate who provides support to the survivor throughout the reporting and recovery process.

Treatment for MST

The military offers various resources to support service members who experience MST. Treatment for MST can include medical care, counseling, and mental health support. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers free counseling and therapy for veterans and active-duty service members who have experienced MST. These services can be accessed through the VA Medical Center, Vet Centers, or community-based clinics.

Several evidence-based therapies have been shown to be effective in treating PTSD and other mental health conditions resulting from MST. These interventions include cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), prolonged exposure therapy, and eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR). In addition to therapy, medication management for conditions like depression, anxiety, and PTSD may also be necessary in some cases.

Conclusion

MST remains a significant issue in the military, despite efforts to address it. The mental health impacts of MST can be extensive and long-lasting, making it crucial for service members who experience MST to seek help. Reporting MST and accessing support can be challenging, but service members have various options, including the SAPR program, military medical providers, and the VA. Seeking early intervention and evidence-based therapies can help service members recover from MST and regain their mental health and well-being. Let us all do our part in raising awareness and support for service members who have experienced MST.

FAQs

What is Military Sexual Trauma?

Military Sexual Trauma (MST) refers to any sexual assault, harassment, or unwanted sexual advances experienced by military personnel. This can be perpetrated by a fellow military member, a superior officer or even a civilian.

How common is Military Sexual Trauma in the military?

Unfortunately, MST is more common than we would like. According to studies, around 25% of women and 1% of men report experiencing some form of Military Sexual Trauma during their military service.

What can be done to support those who have experienced Military Sexual Trauma?

It is important to have access to support and resources for those who have experienced MST. The military has established a Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) program to provide support and services to victims, as well as to prevent further incidents. Additionally, there are many organizations and support groups available outside of the military for those who have experienced MST.


References

1. Kimerling, R., Gima, K., Smith, M. W., Street, A., & Frayne, S. (2007). The veterans health administration and military sexual trauma. American Journal of Public Health, 97(12), 2160-2166. (Italic, Grey, size 8pt)

2. Suris, A., Lind, L., Kashner, T. M., Borman, P. D., Petty, F., & Connor, K. M. (2004). Sexual assault in women veterans: An examination of PTSD risk, health care utilization, and cost of care. Psychosomatic Medicine, 66(5), 749-756. (Italic, Grey, size 8pt)

3. Street, A. E., Stafford, J., Mahan, C. M., & Hendricks, A. (2008). Sexual harassment and assault experienced by reservists during military service: Prevalence and health correlates. Journal of Rehabilitation Research & Development, 45(3), 409-418. (Italic, Grey, size 8pt)