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Understanding Military Sexual Trauma (MST) – a Victim’s Guide


MST might be a term many civilians are unaware of today but one that veterans are all too familiar with. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until recently that the Veterans Affairs (VA) started to recognize MST and how it causes post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – let alone offer treatment.

Military sexual trauma is serious, and it affects enlisted soldiers as well as those who have retired. Furthermore, it is one that is underreported, under-treated, and can permanently alter a victim’s life.

If you are the victim of MST and suffer from PTSD, you have options for treatment in and outside of the VA.

What Is Military Sexual Trauma?

Military sexual trauma (MST) is a term coined by the VA to describe sexual assaults, whether a single instance or repeating, that occurred while a military member was in service. MST involves any sexual activity that is unwanted, including threats of sexual harassment or forcing a soldier to engage in sexual acts in exchange for favors.

MST includes more than sexual assault. It can also involve grabbing, touching, threatening, and offensive remarks about unwanted sexual acts.

Enlisted men and women have been subjected to MST, which can impact their mental and physical health long after they retire from military service.

Eye-Opening Facts About MST

MST is nothing to scoff at or dismiss. While not published frequently by news outlets, MST happens in all areas of military service and all branches – and many victims still feel as though they are going through it alone.

Whether you are a victim, loved one, or concerned friend, here is what you need to know about MST:

1. MST Occurs Frequently

The annual numbers of sexual assaults for women in active-duty military are 3%, while it is 1% for men. That means each year, 3% of women and 1% of enlisted men are sexually assaulted.

Sexual coercion is more common along with sexual attention that is not warranted. At an annual rate, 8% of enlisted women were subjected to sexual coercion, while 27% were subjected to unwanted sexual attention. For men, 1% were subjected to sexual coercion, while 5% submitted to unwanted attention each year.

2. Women Are Less Likely to Report It

Research found that women are less likely to report the abuse, especially if their assailant is in the same military unit. Therefore, while the actual numbers are terrifying, they are most likely underreported.

3. MST Results in a High Demand of Care

MST often leaves victims suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. In 2015, the VA reported 1.3 million outpatient visits specifically for MST-related treatments.

Worse, 40% of women who were homeless veterans were the subject of MST. It is likely that they were homeless because they were unable to function from untreated PTSD resulting from their MST.

4. PTSD Is a Serious Psychiatric Disorder

Post-traumatic stress disorder is not something that goes away. Anyone that has experienced a traumatic event physically, or emotionally, can have PTSD. PTSD symptoms continue for months after the event, and often require therapy and psychotherapeutic medications to stop the symptoms.

Just some symptoms common for PTSD sufferers include insomnia, depression, anxiety, mood swings, avoiding any event that may trigger memories of the trauma, isolation, and extreme reactions.

Treating Military Sexual Trauma and PTSD – What Are My Options?

MST is serious, and while veterans can seek treatment through VA care centers, they also have a variety of other options available to them. Many veterans suffering from PTSD cannot enter a VA hospital or be around former enlisted individuals because anything reminding them of military service triggers memories of the event itself.

Whether you want VA treatment or another service, you do have options. The sooner you treat PTSD, the faster you can get on with your life. Some options available include:

  • Outpatient Care: Outpatient care offers mental health services focusing on PTSD and sexual trauma. The outpatient care center you pick might have sexual trauma counselors, which better equips them to treat your MST. Outpatient care also can help manage underlying mental health problems that stem from the MST, like depression, anxiety, PTSD, or substance abuse.
  • Residential Care: When PTSD becomes so severe that you cannot function in everyday life, or you have become suicidal or a threat to your safety, inpatient care could be the better option. The intense support and monitoring can help you cope with PTSD. If you are uncomfortable in a mixed-gender treatment setting, you may find an inpatient facility that has separate men’s and women’s programs.
  • Support Groups: Support group therapy with others who have been victims of MST or have PTSD after military service may also help – depending on the severity of your symptoms. A counselor would be better equipped to tell you whether support groups would work for your case.
  • Customized Therapy: Customized programs specific to MST treatment are best, like a four-week inpatient treatment program involving one-on-one, group, and combined therapies to treat PTSD and teach coping skills to victims. A partial hospitalization program might also offer similar treatment without requiring a long-term stay.

Do You Have Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Due to Military Sexual Trauma?

PTSD after military trauma doesn’t have to control the rest of your life or affect it. When you have access to qualified counselors and treatment options, you can push through and eventually move on in your life.

San Antonio Behavioral Healthcare Hospital (SABHH) has expanded treatment by developing the first female specific inpatient program for active duty service members who have experienced military sexual trauma. This flagship program, The Yellow Rose Program, has been specifically designed to address the needs of female service members that have been diagnosed with PTSD, Acute Stress Disorder and/or other co-occurring conditions. We provide a trauma-informed care philosophy and multidisciplinary approach in a structured and supportive environment where military personnel can receive intensive individual and group treatment. The Yellow Rose Program is designed to empower female active duty service members so they can return to their mission of serving our country.

Let the counselors at our center help you overcome PTSD or the long-term effects of MST. Schedule an assessment now at 210.541.5350 or contact us online.