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Harry S. Truman Memorial Veterans’ Hospital


Sexual Assault Awareness Month and Military Sexual Trauma

Some who walked in these shoes may have experienced Military Sexual Trauma.

Some who walked in these shoes may have experienced Military Sexual Trauma. Both men and women who served may have experienced Military Sexual Trauma.

By Grant O’Neal, PhD, MST Coordinator
Tuesday, April 26, 2011

While you were in the military, did you ever experience unwanted sexual attention, uninvited sexual advances or forced sex?  Military Sexual Trauma (MST) refers to sexual assault or repeated, unwanted or threatening acts of sexual harassment that occurred while a Veteran was serving on active duty or duty for training.  

Whether or not you have had such experiences yourself, you probably know someone who has experienced Military Sexual Trauma.  24% of women and 1% of men report having experienced a sexual assault while in the military.  While significant efforts are being made to eliminate this problem, sexual harassment and assault continue to occur in military settings.  In a recent survey of military personnel, 52% of women and 29% of men reported having experienced offensive sexual behavior within the prior twelve months.  Because there are more men than women in the military, the number of men and women who have experienced military sexual trauma is about equal.

Sexual trauma is often associated with significant medical conditions and emotional distress.  Medical symptoms or conditions include chronic pain, gastrointestinal symptoms and gynecologic symptoms.  Common psychological or emotional conditions include Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Depression and Substance Abuse.   Feelings of emotional numbness, social withdrawal, sexual problems, anger and thoughts of suicide are also common. 

There are many reasons that individuals who have experienced sexual trauma may not report these experiences or seek help.  The culture of the military may inhibit reporting the event when it occurs.  The perpetrator may have been in the same unit and may have been a superior, for example, making reporting at the time of the event difficult.  Further, many individuals may not realize that their symptoms are associated with sexual trauma.  Many do not realize that help is available or blame themselves for their experience.  As a result, a sense of hopelessness, helplessness or shame may be experienced.  Because most perpetrators of sexual assault are male, men who have experienced sexual trauma may have concerns about their sexuality. 

Treatment is available: If you have experienced MST or other sexual trauma, help is available.  Treatment for MST related conditions is available through VA free of charge.  Treatment for medical conditions or emotional distress associated with MST may be available free of charge even if you are not otherwise eligible for services through VA.  

If you would like more information about treatment for Military Sexual Trauma, please contact behavioral health, your primary care team or the MST Coordinator.  Grant O’Neal, PhD, is the MST Coordinator for Truman VA. 

Learn about other Behavioral Health Services available at Truman VA.


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