Today is Veterans Day, and while I honor all veterans who have served in our military, I want to give a special acknowledgment to those veterans who have suffered and survived the trauma of military sexual assault (MST). We see you. We hear you. And we will continue to be advocates for you.
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, MST is "a criminal offense that can include inappropriate sexual comments, threats, advances, or unwanted sexual contact that happens while you are in the military." Unfortunately, MST is a pervasive problem in the military; one study found that one in three women in the military have experienced some form of sexual assault, and one in four men have experienced unwanted sexual contact.
MST can have lifelong consequences for survivors. In addition to the physical and emotional trauma of the assault itself, survivors often deal with feelings of shame, guilt, and isolation. They may struggle with anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). It's not surprising that MST can lead to substance abuse, relationship problems, and difficulty re-adjusting to civilian life.
Unfortunately, the military justice system has a long history of failing survivors of MST. In too many cases, perpetrators are not held accountable for their actions. This can leave survivors feeling betrayed by their own country and further isolates them from their fellow service members. As a result, many survivors choose not to report their assaults for fear of retaliation or re-traumatization.
Despite the challenges faced by survivors of MST, there are organizations and individuals working tirelessly to support them. These include Veterans Affairs counselors and Sexual Assault Response Coordinators, as well as civilian advocacy groups like Service Women's Action Network (SWAN) and Protect Our Defenders. If you or someone you know is struggling after experiencing MST, please them know that help is available.
Today on Veterans Day, we remember all those who have served our country—including those who have survived MST. You are not alone. There are people who see you and who hear you. And we will continue to fight for justice on your behalf.