Military sexual trauma (MST) is a serious issue affecting both men and women in the armed forces. While it is commonly associated with women, male military sexual trauma has been gaining more attention in recent years. It is estimated that 1 in 100 men in the military experience sexual assault or harassment, and the actual number may be higher due to underreporting (Kimerling et al., 2010). In this blog, we will explore the issue of male military sexual trauma and its impact on those who experience it.
Defining Male Military Sexual Trauma
Male military sexual trauma includes any unwanted sexual contact or behavior experienced by a male service member. This can include rape, sexual assault, sexual harassment, or any other sexual misconduct. Male military sexual trauma can occur in any branch of the military and can be perpetrated by anyone, including fellow service members, superiors, or even civilians.
The Impact of Male Military Sexual Trauma
Male military sexual trauma can have a significant and lasting impact on those who experience it. Some common effects include:
1. Psychological Distress: Male survivors of military sexual trauma may experience a range of psychological symptoms, including depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and suicidal ideation (Kimerling et al., 2010).
2. Physical Health Problems: Male survivors of military sexual trauma may also experience physical health problems, including chronic pain, gastrointestinal problems, and sexual dysfunction.
3. Stigma and Shame: Male survivors of military sexual trauma may feel a sense of shame or stigma associated with their experiences. This can make it difficult for them to seek help and support.
4. Difficulty with Relationships: Survivors of military sexual trauma may have difficulty forming and maintaining healthy relationships, including romantic relationships, friendships, and family relationships.
Barriers to Reporting
One of the biggest barriers to addressing male military sexual trauma is underreporting. Many male survivors of military sexual trauma do not report their experiences due to fear of retaliation, stigma, or a lack of trust in the military justice system (Kimerling et al., 2010). Additionally, some male survivors may not recognize their experiences as sexual trauma due to societal attitudes about masculinity and sexual violence.
Addressing Male Military Sexual Trauma
Addressing male military sexual trauma requires a multifaceted approach. This includes:
1. Prevention: Efforts must be made to prevent sexual assault and harassment from occurring in the military. This can include training programs for service members, bystander intervention programs, and creating a culture of respect and accountability within the military.
2. Support for Survivors: Survivors of male military sexual trauma need access to comprehensive services, including mental health care, medical care, and legal assistance. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) offers a range of services for survivors of military sexual trauma, including counseling, medical care, and disability compensation (VA, 2021).
3. Improving Reporting and Accountability: The military justice system must be improved to ensure that survivors of military sexual trauma are able to report their experiences without fear of retaliation or retribution. This includes providing support and resources for survivors throughout the reporting and investigative process.
4. Addressing Stigma and Masculinity: Efforts must be made to address the stigma associated with male sexual trauma and challenge societal attitudes about masculinity and sexual violence. This can include education and awareness campaigns aimed at changing societal attitudes and promoting a culture of respect and support for survivors.
Male military sexual trauma is a serious issue that affects a significant number of service members. It is important that we work to prevent sexual assault and harassment in the military, provide support and resources for survivors, and improve the military justice system to ensure that survivors are able to report their experiences without fear of retaliation or stigma. By addressing male military sexual trauma, we can create a safer, more supportive, and more equitable military for all service members.
Kimerling, R., Gima, K., Smith, M. W., Street, A., & Frayne, S. (2010). The Veterans Health Administration and military sexual trauma. American Journal of Public Health, 100(8), 1409-1412.