The following information is summarized from the National Center for PTSD. Click here to read the full article.
What is military sexual trauma (MST)?
Military sexual trauma, or MST, is the term used by the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) to refer to experiences of sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that a Veteran experienced during his or her military service.
The definition used by the VA comes from Federal law (Title 38 U.S. Code 1720D) and is “psychological trauma, which in the judgment of a VA mental health professional, resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.”
Sexual harassment is further defined as “repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character.”
More concretely, MST includes any sexual activity where a Servicemember is involved against his or her will – he or she may have been pressured into sexual activities (for example, with threats of negative consequences for refusing to be sexually cooperative or with implied better treatment in exchange for sex), may have been unable to consent to sexual activities (for example, when intoxicated), or may have been physically forced into sexual activities. Other experiences that fall into the category of MST include:
- Unwanted sexual touching or grabbing
- Threatening, offensive remarks about a person’s body or sexual activities
- Threatening and unwelcome sexual advances
The identity or characteristics of the perpetrator, whether the Servicemember was on or off duty at the time, and whether he or she was on or off base at the time do not matter. If these experiences occurred while an individual was on active duty or active duty for training, they are considered by VA to be MST.
How common is MST?
VA’s national screening program, in which every Veteran seen for health care is asked whether he or she experienced MST, provides data on how common MST is among Veterans seen in VA. National data from this program reveal that about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 100 men respond “yes,” that they experienced MST, when screened by their VA provider. Although rates of MST are higher among women, because there are many more men than women in the military, there are actually significant numbers of women and men seen in VA who have experienced MST.
How can MST affect Veterans?
MST is an experience, not a diagnosis or a mental health condition, and as with other forms of trauma, there are a variety of reactions that Veterans can have in response to MST. Some of the experiences both female and male survivors of MST may have include:
- Strong emotions: feeling depressed; having intense, sudden emotional responses to things; feeling angry or irritable all the time
- Feelings of numbness: feeling emotionally “flat”; difficulty experiencing emotions like love or happiness
- Trouble sleeping: trouble falling or staying asleep; disturbing nightmares
- Difficulties with attention, concentration, and memory: trouble staying focused; frequently finding their mind wandering; having a hard time remembering things
- Problems with alcohol or other drugs: drinking to excess or using drugs daily; getting intoxicated or “high” to cope with memories or emotional reactions; drinking to fall asleep
- Difficulty with things that remind them of their experiences of sexual trauma: feeling on edge or “jumpy” all the time; difficulty feeling safe; going out of their way to avoid reminders of their experiences
- Difficulties with relationships: feeling isolated or disconnected from others; abusive relationships; trouble with employers or authority figures; difficulty trusting others
- Physical health problems: sexual difficulties; chronic pain; weight or eating problems; gastrointestinal problems
If you have been sexually harassed or sexually assault while in the military, you have experienced Military Sexual Trauma. Please reach out to us for more information about our MST retreat program, or apply here.