Unfortunately, Mlitary Sexual Trauma (MST) happens in all branches of the military. It doesn’t just happen to females…and the perpetrator can be of the same or of the opposite gender.
In more concrete terms, MST includes any sexual activity where you were involved against your will. You may have been physically forced (or almost forced) into sexual activities. Or, no physical force may have been used but you were coerced or pressured into sexual activities. For example, you may have been threatened with negative consequences for refusing to cooperate. Or it may have been suggested that you would get faster promotions or better treatment in exchange for sex. These are all signs of MST.
Military sexual trauma also includes sexual experiences that happened while you were not able to consent to sexual activities, such as if you were intoxicated. Other MST experiences could be called “sexual harassment” and could include unwanted sexual touching or grabbing, threatening, offensive remarks about your body or your sexual activities, and threatening and unwelcome sexual advances. If these experiences occurred while you were on active duty or active duty for training, they are considered to be MST.
How common is MST? According to the VA, about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 100 men seen for VA health care report a history of MST when screened by a VA provider. Although the percentage among women is much higher, given the far greater number of men in military service, there are significant numbers of both men and women who have experienced MST. In fact, over 40% of the Veterans seen in VA who disclose MST are men. (Keep in mind that these percentages only reflect the veterans who are receiving VA health care and have willingly reported an incident. The incident rates are likely much higher.)
Sadly for some, the MST becomes a life-changing event that alters the course of their future. Because military sexual trauma occurs within the workplace, this form of victimization often disrupts the career goals of many of its victims. Perpetrators may be peers or supervisors responsible for making decisions about work-related evaluations and promotions. In addition, victims may be forced to choose between continuing military careers during which they are forced to have frequent contact with their perpetrators or sacrificing their career goals in order to protect themselves from future victimization.
The repercussions can extend much further. Common emotional reactions include anger and shame, guilt or self-blame. Victims of sexual trauma may report problems in their interpersonal relationships, including difficulties with trust, difficulties engaging in social activities or sexual dysfunction. Male victims of sexual trauma may also express concern about their sexuality or their masculinity.
If a veteran is later diagnosed with a health condition such as PTSD, depression, panic attacks, substance abuse, or anxiety disorders as a result of the MST event, he or she may be eligible to receive disability compensation. The veteran would need to go through the process of filing a disability claim with the VA (using a VA Form 526).
To prove your claim, be aware of the types of evidence you can submit to help support your claim. If you reported the case to an authority, a record of that report may exist. It might be mentioned in your official service records (which you can obtain by ordering them from the archives at the National Personnel Records Center using a Form SF180.) Buddy statements of persons to whom you may have mentioned the incident or who simply knew you both before and after the event and may have noticed significant changes in you after the event can be helpful.
Despite the VA claim and appeal process often taking a great deal of time and effort, it is fortunate that the VA is recognizing and dealing with the MST subject as a very relevant and serious matter. This linked VA educational sheet has additional information that might be helpful to veterans seeking assistance for MST through the VA and other related services.