What is military sexual trauma?
Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) defines military sexual trauma (MST) as
sexual harassment that is threatening or physical assault of a sexual
nature.1 These traumas occur when a person is in the
military.1 The location, the genders of the people
involved, and their relationship do not matter.1
Sexual harassment may include:
- A put-down of your
- Flirting when you've made clear it's not welcome.
- Sexual comments or gestures about your body or
- Pressure for sexual favors.
Sexual assault can be any sort of activity that you don't
want. It doesn't have to be physical. Sexual threats or bullying are sexual
assault. Rape is not the only type of sexual assault. Sexual assault is any
unwanted sexual act, including touching or grabbing.
have been sexually assaulted often feel that no one can help, that they have no
power, and that it may happen again. People may tell you or indicate that it
was your fault or that you just need to get over it. Your military experience
may make these feelings more intense. This is because the person responsible or
his or her colleagues:
- May work with and live close to
- May have some control over your needs, such as medical
- May have some control over your promotions and career.
The bonding within your unit can make it hard to report
your assault. You may feel torn between loyalty to your unit and to yourself,
and you may feel you need to keep quiet for the good of the group. You may feel
forced to choose between your military career and continued contact with the
person who assaulted you.
Who gets MST?
MST can happen during war, peace, or
training. It can be man-to-woman, woman-to-man, woman-to-woman, or man-to-man.
- Among veterans using VA health care, about:
- 23 out of 100 women (23%) reported sexual
assault when in the military.1
- 55 out of
100 women (55%) and 38 out of 100 men (38%) have experienced sexual harassment
when in the military.1
There is no set reaction to MST. You
may feel fear, shame, anger, embarrassment, or guilt. You may have a response
right away, or it may be delayed for months or years. You may feel sad or
scared months or years after the assault.
After MST you
- Avoid places or things that remind you of
- Avoid your friends, family, and other
- Have trouble sleeping or have nightmares.
numb or feel nothing at all.
- Have relationship
- Think about death or killing yourself.
Some people try to deal with their feelings by pulling
away from other people, working all the time, or
using drugs or alcohol. They also may feel
depressed or have