DISCLAIMER: This page is for informational purposes only and should not be taken as a substitute for professional advice or diagnosis. If you feel that you may need medical advice, please consult a qualified health care professional.
Military sexual trauma (MST) refers to experiences of sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that a Veteran experienced during his/her military service. The Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) uses the definition given by Federal Law (Title 38 U.S. Code 1720D) stating MSAT as “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 or active duty for training.” Sexual harassment is defined as “repeated verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character.”
MST includes any sexual activity where a Veteran/Servicemember is/was involved against his/her will. For example:
- He or she may have been pressured into sexual activities
- He or she may have been unable to consent to sexual activities
- He or she may have been physically forced into sexual activities
- Other MST experiences include unwanted sexual touching or grabbing; threatening, offensive remarks about a person’s body or sexual activities; and threatening and unwelcome sexual advances.
The identity or characteristics of the perpetrator, whether the Veteran/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.
Facts About MST
- According to the DoD, an estimated 19,300 sexual assaults occurred in the military in 2010; 13.5% of total survivors reported assault – 10,700 vicitims were men and 8,600 were women
- 1 in 5 women and 1 in 100 men responded “yes” when screened for MST by VA providers
- According to the VA, MST is an experience, not a diagnosis, and Veterans’ current treatment needs will vary
- Rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment are the leading causes of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among women veterans, while combat trauma is still the leading cause of PTSD among men
MST’s Effects on a Veteran’s Physical and Mental Health
MST can have substantial effects on men and women who experienced MST during military service. Responses to MST vary between each person; some common signs of MST are:
- Emotional: Depression, sudden emotional reactions, persistent anger or irritability
- Numbness: Feeling ‘flat’ or having difficulty expressing emotions like love or happiness
- Sleep disturbances: Insomnia, nightmares, etc.
- Attention, concentration, and memory: Trouble staying focued, frequent mind-wandering, memory issues
- Problems with alcohol or other drugs
- Triggers that remind one of their experiences of sexual trauma: Feeling on-edge or jump, feeling unsafe, avoiding reminders, difficulty trusting others
- Relationship difficulties: Feeling isolated and disconnected, abusive relationships, on-the-job issues with employers or authority figures
- Physical health issues: Difficulties with intimacy, weight/eating problems, gastrointestinal problems
If You’ve Experienced MST, You Are Not Alone
DoD Safe Helpline: 1-877-955-5247
The DoD Safe Helpline is a crisis support service for members of the DoD community affected by sexual assault. The Safe Helpline provides live one-on-one support, and information to the DoD community. The service is confidential, anonymous, secure, and available worldwide, providing survivors with the help they need anytime, anywhere. The Helpline is operated through a contract with RAINN, the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. RAINN also operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (1-800-656-4673) and the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline (http://online.rainn.org/).
After Deployment*: AfterDeployment.org provides a program designed to provide support to service members who are healing after having experienced sexual trauma.
DoD Sexual Assault and Response Office (SAPRO): The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO) is responsible for oversight of the Department’s sexual assault policy. SAPRO works hand-in-hand with the Services and the civilian community to develop and implement innovative prevention and response programs.
- National Guard Sexual Assault Prevention and Response: The National Guard Bureau is committed to eliminating incidents of sexual assault by instituting a comprehensive policy that focuses on increasing awareness through prevention and education, victim centered support, intimidation free reporting, thorough investigation, and accountability for those who commit sexual crimes.
- U.S. Air Force Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR): The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program reinforces the Air Force’s commitment to eliminate incidents of sexual assault through awareness and prevention training, education, victim advocacy, response, reporting and accountability. The Air Force promotes sensitive care and confidential reporting for victims of sexual assault and accountability for those who commit these crimes.
- U.S. Army Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP): The Army’s Sexual Harassment/Assault Response and Prevention (SHARP) program exists so the Army can prevent sexual harassment and sexual assaults before they occur. Our goal is to eliminate sexual harassment and sexual assaults by creating a climate that respects the dignity of every member of the Army Family.
- U.S. Coast Guard Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR): The Coast Guard’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) Program prevents sexual assault by implementing and sustaining comprehensive SAPR strategies the focus on awareness, cultural change, prevention, response, victim support, intimidation-free reporting, fair and impartial investigations, and accountability to protect the safety and well-being of all our active duty, Reserve, civilian, Auxiliary, and retiree shipmates and their families.
- U.S. Marine Corps Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR): Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR) is responsible for providing policies, evidence-based prevention training, and oversight of victim-centric services. The purpose of the SAPR Program is to eliminate incidents of sexual assault through a comprehensive program that centers on awareness and prevention, training and education, reporting, response, victim advocacy, and accountability.
- U.S. Navy Sexual Assault Prevention and Response (SAPR): The mission of the Navy SAPR is to prevent and respond to sexual assault, eliminating it from our ranks through a balanced of focused education, comprehensive response, compassionate advocacy, and just adjudication in order to promote professionalism, respect, and trust, while preserving Navy mission readiness.
MakeTheConnection.net: Visit this site to view stories of Veterans who have overcome military sexual trauma. MakeTheConnection.net is a one-stop resource where Veterans and their families and friends can privately explore information on mental health issues, hear fellow Veterans and their families share their stories of resilience, and easily find and access the support and resources they need.
Men Recovering from Military Sexual Trauma (MR. MST): Men Recovering from Military Sexual Trauma seeks to empower male survivors and their allies and raise awareness of male survivors of sexual crimes in the military.
Military OneSource Sexual Assault Page: Sexual assault can happen to anyone at any time. It can be overwhelming and devastating for victims and their families. The Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Program is available to help provide victims with accurate information, prompt medical care, counseling and assistance with the military justice system. Use these resources, tools and articles to learn more about getting the support you need.
MyDuty.mil*: If you are an active duty service member and have been a victim of Military Sexual Assault (or know someone who has), MyDuty.mil provides information and guidance on your reporting options and rights.
Rape, Incest, & Abuse National Network (RAINN): RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) is the nation’s largest anti-sexual violence organization and was named one of “America’s 100 Best Charities” by Worth magazine. RAINN created and operates the National Sexual Assault Hotline (800.656.HOPE and online.rainn.org) in partnership with more than 1,100 local rape crisis centers across the country and operates the DoD Safe Helpline for the Department of Defense. RAINN also carries out programs to prevent sexual violence, help victims and ensure that rapists are brought to justice.
Service Women’s Action Network’s Military Sexual Violence Page: SWAN believes that our troops deserve to serve in a military without fear of rape, sexual harassment or sexual assault, and without fear of retaliation for reporting. In order to accomplish this, SWAN advocates for better victims protections, professionalized and impartial prosecution of the accused, and service members’ access to civil courts.
VA Disability Compensation for Conditions Related to MST (Factsheet / General Information): Veterans can apply for disability compensation for any current difficulties that are related to their service, including difficulties related to MST. Visit these sites to learn more about VA disability compensation for conditions related to MST. Remember that you do not need to have a VA disability rating in order to receive free MST-related treatment through VA.
VA National Center for PTSD MST Page: Veterans can receive free, confidential counseling and treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to MST. Veterans do not need to be service-connected (have a VA disability rating). You may be able to receive this benefit even if you are not eligible for other VA care. You do not need to have reported the incident(s) when they happened. You do not need to have proof that they occurred.
VA Mental Health MST Page: While MST can be a very difficult experience, recovery is possible. At the VA, Veterans can receive free, confidential treatment for mental and physical health conditions related to MST. You may be able to receive this MST-related care even if you are not eligible for other VA services. To receive these services, you do not need a VA service-connected disability rating, to have reported the incident when it happened, or have other documentation that it occurred. Eligibility for MST-related treatment is entirely separate from the disability claims process.