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Military Sexual Trauma

“Military sexual trauma” (MST) is sexual assault or sexual harassment experienced during military service.


According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 1 in 3 women and 1 in 50
men respond “yes,” that they experienced MST when screened by their VA
provider. (Source: and then read “full article”)


Although the incidence of MST is higher among women because there are fewer women than men in the military, a significant number of men have also experienced MST.


Examples of MST include:

  • Being pressured or coerced into sexual activities, such as threats of negative treatment for refusal to cooperate or with promises of better treatment in exchange for sex

  • Sexual contact or activities without consent, including when asleep or intoxicated

  • Being overpowered or physically forced to have sex

  • Being touched or grabbed in a sexual way that made the service member feel uncomfortable, including during “hazing” experiences

  • Comments about one’s body or sexual activities that a service member found threatening

  • Unwanted sexual advances that a service member found threatening


MST is an experience, not a diagnosis or a mental health condition, and as with other forms of trauma, there are a variety of emotional reactions in response to MST. The type, severity, and duration of an individual’s difficulties will all vary based on factors such as a prior history of trauma, the types of responses he/she received from others at the time of the MST, and whether the MST happened once or was repeated over time. Although the reactions men and women have to MST are similar in some ways, they may also struggle with different issues. Race/ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and other cultural variables can also affect the impact of MST.


MST can negatively affect a person’s mental and physical health, even many years later. Reactions service members may experience may include:

  • Disturbing memories or nightmares

  • Difficulty feeling safe

  • Feelings of depression or numbness

  • Problems with alcohol or other drugs

  • Feeling isolated from other people

  • Problems with anger, irritability, or other strong emotions

  • Issues with sleep

  • Physical health problems


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