Academic journal article Best Practices in Mental Health

Military Sexual Trauma among Men: A Review of the Literature and a Call for Research

Academic journal article Best Practices in Mental Health

Military Sexual Trauma among Men: A Review of the Literature and a Call for Research

Article excerpt


The term military sexual trauma (MST) as used by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) refers to sexual assault or repeated threatening sexual harassment experienced by someone on active duty in the armed forces (2016b). In this article we will discuss how government policies and stereotypes prevalent in society have influenced research on MST and thus affected the development of treatment programs addressing the varied health conditions that stem from MST. In the case of male servicemen, MST usually concerns sexual behaviors that happen between men (excluding the less frequent female to male cases, such as demands for sexual favors by a higher rank female from a subordinate male).

A policy of Don't Ask, Don't Tell (DADT) represented official U.S. policy on homosexuals serving in the military from December 21, 1993, to September 20, 2011 (National Defense Authorization Act, 1993). The legislation was originally enacted as a compromise measure that would allow same-sex-oriented individuals to serve in the military as long as they did not disclose their same-sex orientation. Despite scholarship suggesting that such a policy would diminish the public impression of the military (Belkin, 2008), government officials pursued the policy, fearing that allowing members of the lesbian, gay, and bisexual (LGB) population to openly serve in the armed forces would adversely affect recruitment and retention and undermine the morale within the nation's military (Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2016). The policy provided both that individuals who disclosed a same-sex sexual orientation were to be separated from the military and that military officials could not ask about an individual's sexual orientation. As a result, before and during the period this policy was in force, there were officially no LGB service members in the military.

However, after the repeal of DADT in December 2010 and its phasing out by September 2011, there was increased interest in the LGB military and veteran population. A growing number of researchers has addressed the effects of DADT on the functioning of sexual minorities in the military and has called for more research (Averill, Fleming, Holens, & Larsen, 2015; Sherman et al., 2014). The available research confirms earlier scholarship suggesting that DADT's repeal would not bring any negative consequences to military readiness, unit cohesion, recruitment, retention, assaults, harassment, and morale (Belkin et al., 2013). In fact, other research has documented the unintended negative consequences of the DADT policy on LGB service members (Kavanaugh, 2013).

These unintended consequences include the increased vulnerability of samesex-oriented military members to verbal and physical abuse, increased stigma associated with same-sex orientation, and an inability by both heterosexuals and homosexuals/lesbians to report sexual abuse for fear of being thought to be homosexual/lesbian and the ensuing likelihood of separation from military service (Burks, 2011). One of the most important consequences of DADT was the decrease in research concerning the experiences of LGB people in the military forces. Denial of the existence of sexual minorities in the military led to a lack of legal, family-oriented, and health care services for this population.

This official stand of the United States government also made it impossible to study the experiences of LGB people in the military and more specifically any sexual behavior or sexual violence that occurred between same-sex military service personnel. However, some male service members did experience MST because of the actions of other males, and some male victims of MST reported such incidents despite the then-existing policy. Medical professionals have only recently recognized same-sex MST as a significant issue for those who have experienced it (Kimerling, Gima, Smith, Street, & Frayne, 2007); they have only begun to study evidence-based practices (EBPs) developed intentionally to aid same-sex MST victims (Morris, Smith, Farooqui, & Suris, 2014). …

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