The experience of military sexual trauma (also referred to as MST) is a widespread problem in the military. In fact, studies have found that anywhere between 23% and 33% of female veterans report having experienced MST. Women who have experienced MST are also at high risk for developing PTSD.
What About Men?
Most studies of MST have focused their attention on women. As compared to men, MST does occur at higher rates in women. However, MST is also experienced by substantial proportion of men in the military.
One large study of more than two million male veterans who had visited an outpatient veteran healthcare facility found that 31,797 reported experiencing a MST. A similar number of women (29,418) reported the experience of a MST (out of approximately 100,000 women).
Consequences of MST Among Men
MST can put a person at greater risk for developing a wide range of psychological difficulties. Men who have experienced a MST are much more likely than men without this history to have anxiety disorders (including PTSD), major depression, and substance use disorders (for example, drug and/or alcohol dependence).
The high rates of psychological difficulties among men who have experienced MST are not surprising. MST may be very difficult to cope with. Similar to women who have experienced MST, men who have experienced MST may feel shame, preventing them from seeking out the help they need. Desires to maintain unit cohesion may also prevent men from seeking out help. In addition, if the perpetrator of the MST was also military personnel, the victim may continue to work with that person, leading to high levels of stress (and potentially risk for further MST).
If you have experienced sexual assault in the military or otherwise, you are not alone. It is important to take action right away. Information on MST and how to get help is available through the National Center for PTSD.
Fontana, A., & Rosenheck, R. (1998). Duty-related and sexual stress in the etiology of PTSD among women veterans who seek treatment. Psychiatric Services, 49, 658-662.
Himmelfarb, N., Yaeger, D., & Mintz, J. (2006). Posttraumatic stress disorder in female veterans with military and civilian sexual trauma. Journal of Traumatic Stress, 19, 837-846.
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, 2160-2166.