Military sexual trauma (MST) is the term the VA uses for any sexual harassment or sexual assault that occurred during military service. Today’s post will focus and present information on a few key things related to MST:
What is Considered Military Sexual Trauma?
Visit the VA Military Sexual Trauma Page
The VA gives the following examples of what military sexual trauma can look like:
- Pressure or coercion for sexual activities, with either the threat of consequences or negative impact if you do not cooperate, or the bribe or promise of reward or better treatment if you do
- Any sexual activity or contact without your full consent
- This includes when the victim is asleep or under the influence of alcohol
- Rape- being overpowered or forced to have sex
- Any form of sexual touch that makes you uncomfortable
- Comments about your body or threatening sexual activities
- Sexual advances that were unwanted or threatening in any way
Just How Common is Military Sexual Trauma?
While strides have been made in the awareness, reporting, and care for those who are victims of MST, the truth is it’s still a prevalent issue for those in the Armed Forces. Women and men both are victims of MST, though there is a huge gender gap.
Resource: VA Military Sexual Trauma Fact Sheet
- 1 in 3 women (33%) report experiencing military sexual trauma during their time in service
- 1 in 50 men (2%) report experiencing military sexual trauma during their time in service
It is important to note that these numbers may be even higher, as many do not report military sexual trauma.
~Read more on the challenges unique to women service members in a post here.
~Learn about the most common disabilities for women veterans here.
Background and History of Military Sexual Trauma
Though not a new occurrence, the way military sexual trauma was recognized and dealt with by the justice system was a joke before the late 1980’s. Scandals brought this pervasive issue to light in 1988 and 1989, creating opportunity for public awareness and change. The Department of Defense (DOD) started Workplace and Gender Relations surveys in 1988, which did include questions on sexual assault and trauma. The surveys were not done regularly enough, nor were swift actions taken, with the results of each round.
Tragically, it wasn’t until 2004 that serious efforts were made to not only recognize the commonality of MST, but to focus on the care and treatment for victims.
Here is some history on the journey to establish this office and give it permanence; from the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPRO) website:
“The Department quickly assembled the Care for Victims of Sexual Assault Task Force, led by Ms. Ellen Embrey, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Force Health, Protection, and Readiness, and charged the task force to report back in 90 days with recommendations (Task Force Report for Care of Victims of Sexual Assault). Following a comprehensive review, the Task Force released a series of recommendations in April 2004.
One of the recommendations emphasized the need to establish a single point of accountability for sexual assault policy within the Department. This led to the establishment of the Joint Task Force for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response, and the naming of then Brigadier General K.C. McClain as its commander in October 2004.
The Task Force focused its initial efforts on developing a new DoD-wide sexual assault policy that incorporated recommendations set forth in the Task Force Report on Care for Victims of Sexual Assault as well as in the Ronald W. Reagan National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2005 (PL108-375). This act directed the Department to have a sexual assault policy in place by January 1, 2005.
In January 2005, DoD presented to Congress a comprehensive policy on prevention and response to sexual assault. The policy provides a foundation for the Department to improve prevention of sexual assault, significantly enhance support to victims and increase reporting and accountability.
The Task Force and the Military Services collaborated closely to ensure the rapid and effective implementation of this policy. In 2005, the Task Force provided instruction to more than 1,200 sexual assault response coordinators (SARCs), chaplains, lawyers, and law enforcement to create a cadre of trained first responders. In addition, the Military Services trained more than 1,000,000 Service members and established sexual assault program offices at all major installations.”
The task force transitioned and established permanence as the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) in October 2005. This office manages all sexual assault policy, and the onus for ensuring compliance with their policies and guidelines remains fully within. Each branch of the Armed Forces has integrated the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response resources and protocol.
When Sexual Assault or Sexual Harassment Occurs in the Military
Though this blog is geared toward veterans, the issue of military sexual trauma is so prevalent and serious that it would be remiss of us to exclude some of the following information, in the chance that it helps guide even one person to their next steps or to the resources they need.
One of the most difficult parts of experiencing sexual assault is knowing what to do or where to go next. Victims are often afraid of retaliation, ridicule, being labeled false, or possibly being removed from their duties.
Here are some key steps to take after sexual assault occurs, to ensure there are options and promote personal safety:
- Move to a safe location. Get away from the offender.
- Do not bath, shower, wash hands, or brush teeth (Evidence preservation)
- Leave everything as is at the scene of the assault
- Seek medical treatment and care
- Ask for a Sexual Assault Forensic Exam (SAFE) for evidence collection
- Ask for a blood test and/or urinalysis if there is any suspicion or possibility that you were drugged
- Contact a Sexual Assault Response Coordinator (SARC), or SAPR Victim Advocate in the VA. They will:
- Keep your report confidential
- Explain your reporting options- restricted or unrestricted
- Connect you with support and resources
Resources available to you immediately:
- Call the Department of Defense SAFE helpline at 1-877-995-5247; a 24/7 confidential and toll-free call
- Visit https://www.safehelpline.org/ – you can search by zip code or the name of your base for SAPR resources
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