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By David Jenkins
What is Military Sexual Trauma (MST)?
In simplest terms MST could be defined as any unwanted sexual advances towards a male or female serving in the military that causes duress or distress. Does MST really exist? The answer is a resounding yes. According to the US Department of Veterans Affairs roughly 1 in 5 woman and 1 in 100 men identified with having some form of MST during routine screening when seeking services through the Veterans Administration. However, not everyone who identifies with having MST in some form requires or seeks those services. In 2005 the US Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) indicated that there were 2374 reports of claimed sexual assault of service personnel, of which 2047 were unrestricted and 327 were restricted. In 2010 SAPRO indicated there were 3158 reports of claimed sexual assault of service personnel, of which 2410 were unrestricted and 748 were restricted.
Although these reports may be statistically significant, they also could be misleading. The reports appear on the outset to indicate an overall increase in MST, but this is not necessarily the case. The report indicates an increase of “reporting” of claimed sexual assaults which could be due to a number of factors such as an increase in people joining the military or a decrease in those who were hesitant to report MST. Because many times MST goes unreported due to a lot of different factors, any increase in reporting should be welcomed to help get rid of the problems associated with reporting MST. Within the military, people often rely on each other in various ways and often have to work together for long periods of time. Any type of breakage of military unwritten codes or culture is met with scrupulous resistance due to the high demand for solidarity among and within groups of solders. This is problematic for the victim of MST for it could create anxiety, tension, stress and possibly poor psychological well being which ultimately could result in a trauma related lasting disorder such as chronic Post Traumatic Stress. Regardless, MST is a recognizable and continued problem in the armed forces.
What can those who suffer from MST do about it?
There are treatments and resources available for MST victims. There are some therapeutic treatment options that have been shown to be affective for those who suffer from MST such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Exposure Therapy (EP), and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.
There are also resources available for services for MST:
The Invisible War
Recently a documentary entitled The Invisible War debuted at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival, which is about MST. As indicated on The Invisible War website the documentary focuses “on the powerfully emotional stories of several young women, the film reveals the systemic cover up of the crimes against them and follows their struggles to rebuild their lives and fight for justice. THE INVISIBLE WAR features hard-hitting interviews with high-ranking military officials and members of Congress that reveal the perfect storm conditions that exist for rape in the military, its history of cover-up, and what can be done to bring about much needed change.”
Although I have not seen this movie, it is an indicator that this tragic problem is surfacing and getting more recognition, which hopefully will assist with decreasing the incidents of MST within our military ranks. Our nations finest deserve to be treated with respect inside and outside of uniform and any effort to thwart the internal assault of our armed forces should be put at the top of nations priorities.
Military Sexual Trauma
US Department of Veterans Affairs
US Department of Defense Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO)
Make the Connection
VA Medical Facility Finder
My Duty (for active military)
Woman’s Veteran Health
Military Sexual Trauma Podcasts
My Military Education
Gift From Within
The Invisible War
Sundance Film Festival