07:04am Tuesday 12 December 2017

Military Sexual Trauma: Prevalent and Under Treated

WASHINGTON — Rates of military sexual trauma among men who served in the military may be as much as 15 times higher than has been previously reported, largely because of barriers associated with stigma, beliefs in myths about male rape, and feelings of helplessness, according to articles published by the American Psychological Association.

Female veterans who were sexually assaulted are also more prone to develop post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) than other women who experienced combat, and are significantly less likely than other PTSD sufferers to seek help, according to studies appearing in a special issue of the journal Psychological Services®.

“We know that there is under reporting among men and women and hope that this special issue will help to bring awareness and treatment for those that serve and protect us,” said the issue’s co-editor, Michi Fu, PhD, a clinical practitioner. “I personally wanted to pull together scholarship after hearing of reports of military sexual trauma being so much more prevalent than in the general population.”

The special issue is a comprehensive look at the issues facing men and women who experienced military sexual trauma while serving, as well as a presentation of evidence-based strategies for preventing future sexual violence and encouraging people to come forward and seek treatment. The articles urge more public education and monitoring of victims.
Articles in the issue:

    “Preliminary Data Suggest Rates of Male Military Sexual Trauma May Be Higher Than Previously Reported” (PDF, 32KB) by Sean C. Sheppard, PhD, University of Utah, et al.

    Anonymity may not guarantee accurate reports of military sexual trauma on male service members, according to this study of 180 combat veterans. Using a form of randomized response techniques to gain information about the accuracy of estimates of male sexual trauma in the military, researchers found that the rates may be more than 15 times higher than is generally reported in traditional anonymous surveys. Stigma may be an overwhelming factor in traditional reporting and could be contributing to a substantial underestimation of the true rate of this problem, the authors said.

    Sean Sheppard can be contacted by email or by phone at (253) 670-2971.

    “Don’t Tell: Military Culture and Male Rape” (PDF, 63KB) by Carol O’Brien, PhD, Jessica Keith, PhD, and Lisa Shoemaker, LCSW, Bay Pines Veterans Affairs Healthcare System, Bay Pines, Florida

    Data suggest that men who are sexually assaulted in the military are less likely than women who are sexually assaulted to report the assault or seek treatment. The authors of this analysis say there is a lack of research on sexual assault on men in the military, with most work focused on prevalence rates rather than the effects and clinical treatment of this problem. The authors discuss how the impact of male rape myths such as “Men don’t get raped” may be particularly strong for men who are assaulted within the military context and increase shame and secrecy, delay treatment seeking, lead to increased life difficulties, and impair recovery.

    Jessica Keith can be contacted by email or by phone at (727) 398-6661, ext. 12591.

    “Functional Correlates of Military Sexual Assault in Male Veterans” (PDF, 70KB) by Amie Schry, PhD, Veterans Affairs Mid-Atlantic Mental Illness Research, Education and Clinical Center, Durham, North Carolina; Durham Veterans Affairs Medical Center; and Duke University Medical Center, et al.

    Male veterans who reported being sexually assaulted while serving their country suffered more severe symptoms of PTSD and depression, had higher rates of suicidal thoughts and were more likely to enroll in outpatient mental health treatment than those who were not assaulted, according to a study of 2,042 veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The authors suggest ongoing monitoring of male veterans with a known history of military sexual assault to facilitate identification and effective clinical management of related psychiatric and functional problems.

    Megan Warren, Durham VA Medical Center Public Affairs, can be contacted by email or by phone at (919) 286-6986.

    “Sexual Trauma in the Military: Exploring PTSD and Mental Health Care Utilization in Female Veterans” (PDF, 58KB) by Sara Kintzle, PhD, University of Southern California, et al.

    A majority of female veterans who indicated being sexually assaulted during their military service met the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD, according to this study of 325 women in Southern California. Only 14 percent of these women reported actually seeking help or treatment immediately after their assault. However, over 75 percent reported receiving mental health counseling in the last year, years after the assaults, which highlighted their continued need for care, the findings showed.

    Sara Kintzle can be contacted by email or by phone at (213) 821-3605.

    “The Influence of Military Sexual Trauma on Returning OEF/OIF Male Veterans” (PDF, 64KB) by Sasha A. Mondragon, PhD, David Wang, PhD, Lonique Pritchett, PhD, David Graham, MD, M. Leili Plasencia, PhD, and Ellen Teng, PhD, Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center, Houston, and Texas and Baylor College of Medicine

    Military sexual trauma against male veterans is associated with poor post-deployment support from friends and family, as well as significant perceived emotional mistreatment, according to this study of 961 veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this sample, 18 percent reported experiencing military sexual trauma, ranging from offensive comments to being sexually assaulted by a member of their unit. Military sexual trauma among male veterans was also associated with a greater likelihood of having a mood disorder.

    Ellen Teng can be contacted by email or by phone at (713) 578-5513.

    “Being My Own Virgil: My Journey Through Inferno From Military Sexual Trauma” (PDF, 34KB) by Anonymous

    This article provides a firsthand experience of military sexual abuse and trauma from an anonymous female survivor. The abusive events unfolded over 12 months. Because she was a mental health provider and did not manifest the expected behaviors of a victim of abuse, many either did not see the effects or did not see them as having significant impact on her. Although the military system eventually understood and resolved the situation, it was a long, arduous and painful process for the victim. She tells her story in the hope that it will challenge people’s professional and personal beliefs regarding survivors of military sexual trauma and help their treatment.

Other articles in the special issue:

    “Sexual Intimate Partner Violence as a Form of MST: An Initial Investigation”
    “Associations of Military Sexual Trauma, Combat Exposure, and Number of Deployments With Physical and Mental Health Indicators in Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans”
    “Military Sexual Trauma, Combat Exposure, and Negative Urgency as Independent Predictors of PTSD and Subsequent Alcohol Problems Among OEF/OIF Veterans”
    “Predicting Utilization of Healthcare Services in the Veterans Health Administration by Returning Women Veterans: The Role of Trauma Exposure and Symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress”
    “Self-Efficacy, Male Rape Myth Acceptance, and Devaluation of Emotions in Sexual Trauma Sequelae: Findings From a Sample of Male Veterans”
    “The Role of Cognitive Processing Therapy in Improving Psychosocial Functioning, Health, and Quality of Life in Veterans With Military Sexual Trauma-Related Posttraumatic Stress Disorder”
    “Establishing a New Military Sexual Trauma (MST) Treatment Program: Issues and Recommendations for Design and Implementation”

For copies of these articles, please contact the APA Public Affairs Office.

Special Issue: Military Sexual Trauma, edited by Michi Fu, PhD, Pasadena, California, and Tracy Sbrocco, PhD, Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, Psychological Services, Vol. 12, No. 4.

Michi Fu can be contacted by email or by phone at (626) 583-8388.

The American Psychological Association, in Washington, D.C., is the largest scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the United States. APA’s membership includes more than 122,500 researchers, educators, clinicians, consultants and students. Through its divisions in 54 subfields of psychology and affiliations with 60 state, territorial and Canadian provincial associations, APA works to advance the creation, communication and application of psychological knowledge to benefit society and improve people’s lives.


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