Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) defines military sexual trauma (MST) as
experiences of sexual assault or repeated, threatening acts of sexual harassment.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.2
Sexual harassment may include:
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 the assault
was your fault or that you just need to get over it. Your military experience
may make these feelings worse. This is because the person responsible or
his or her colleagues:
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.
MST can happen during war, peace, or
training. It can be man-to-woman, woman-to-man, woman-to-woman, or man-to-man.
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
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
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) after a sexual
assault is common.
After a sexual assault, many
veterans keep quiet. They worry what others will think of them, and that
talking about the assault will hurt their military careers. But the VA can
The VA has qualified MST counselors at every hospital. Many
Vet Centers also have an MST coordinator. This person can discuss treatment
with you and help you find the services that best fit your needs. Many VA and
Vet Centers offer services specific to men and women.
often is used to treat MST. Your doctor also may prescribe medicines that help
with symptoms. Treatment can help you cope with trauma and regain confidence
For more information, see the topic
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
CitationsVeterans Health Administration (2004). Veterans Health Initiative: Military Sexual Trauma. Available
online: http://www.publichealth.va.gov/docs/vhi/military_sexual_trauma.pdf.Veterans Health Administration (2012). Military sexual trauma. Available online: http://www.mentalhealth.va.gov/docs/mst_general_factsheet.pdf.
January 9, 2013
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Jessica Hamblen, PhD - Post Traumatic Stress Disorder
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