Veterans from all eras of service – from World War II to those who served more recently in Iraq and Afghanistan – have reported experiencing Military Sexual Trauma (MST). 

What is Military Sexual Trauma? 

MST refers to a service member’s experience with sexual assault or sexual harassment occurring at any point during his or her military service.

 

The following are all examples of MST: 

  • Forced or coerced sexual encounters 

  • Sexual encounters are perpetrated while a person is unwilling or unable to give consent 

  • Inappropriate sexual jokes or lewd remarks 

  • Unwanted physical contact that makes you uncomfortable 

  • Repeated sexual advances 

  • Offers of something in exchange for sexual favors 

  • Being touched in a sexual way that made you uncomfortable 

  • Repeated comments about your body or sexual activities 

 

An estimated 1 in 4 female veterans and 1 in 100 male veterans in the VA healthcare system report experiencing MST. It is important to note that by percentage women are at greater risk of MST, but nearly 40% of veterans who disclose MST to VA are men. 

 

Facts on Military Sexual Assault 

  • High demand for VA health care.  1,307,781 outpatient visits took place at the VA for MST-related care in 2015. 

  • The likelihood that a person’s mental health suffers, and experiences suicidal or depressive thoughts increases after sexual violence.  Posttraumatic stress disorder can be common along with other mental health conditions. 

  • Every day, 55 service members endure sexual assault. 

  • Sexual violence remains pervasive. In 2018, 20,500 service members were sexually assaulted or raped including 13,000 women and 7,500 men.  The rate of sexual assault and rape jumped by almost 40% from 2016 to 2018, and for women veterans, the rate increased by over 50% to the highest level since 2006. 

  • Of women who reported a penetrative sexual assault, 59% were assaulted by someone with a higher rank than them, and 24% were assaulted by someone in their chain of command. 

  • Many cases go unreported. 76.1% of victims did not report the crime in 2018. 

  • Retaliation is the norm. 64% of women who reported a sexual assault face retaliation. 66% of retaliation reports alleged that retaliators were in the reporter’s chain of command. A third of victims are discharged after reporting, typically within 7 months of making a report.  Victims received harsher discharges, with 24% separated under less than fully honorable conditions, compared to 15% of all service members. 

  • Low trust and satisfaction in the system. Over 1 in 4 victims who did not report feared retaliation from their command or coworkers. 1 in 3 victims who did not report feared the process would be unfair or nothing would be done.  Less than half of the female veteran survivors felt well supported by their chain of command. 

  • 40% of homeless women veterans have faced MST.  Veterans with an MST history are over twice as likely to experience homelessness.

  • Over 1 in 4 women and 1 in 3 men were assaulted by someone in their chain of command. 

  • While only constituting 14.6 percent of the military, women account for 95 percent of reported sex crime victims. .  

  • Black women now constitute nearly one third of all women in the U.S. military. At around 30 percent, this number is twice their representation in the civilian population and higher than that of men or women of any other racial or ethnic group, this offers unique implications about Black women’s experiences of both homelessness and sexual violence.  

  • A 2004 study of women veterans from Vietnam and all wars since, who were seeking help for posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), found that 71 percent said they were sexually assaulted or raped while serving.  

  • 26 percent of active-duty women report experiencing military equal-opportunity violations based on sex.  

  • Women who experience sexual violence in the context of active-duty military service are nine times more at risk for PTSD than their civilian counterparts.  

  • Both men and women who have been sexually assaulted while in the military represent the fastest growing segment of the homeless population -- and the rate of women veterans that are homeless is particularly on the rise, with African American women being especially affected.  

  • Women veterans are four times more likely to become homeless than their civilian counterparts.  

  • Because those who experience personal violence, including rape, are 6.5 times more likely to experience homelessness, women veterans who have experienced violence are at a greater risk for experiencing homelessness, especially when compounded by PTSD. 

  • Men with MST are 70 percent more likely than fellow vets without such experience to commit suicide, and women veterans with MST are more than twice as likely as other female vets to do so. 

 

Sources: 

https://dav.org/ 

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0749379715007035 

https://www.hillandponton.com/