Military Sexual Trauma (MST) refers to experiences of sexual assault, or repeated threatening sexual harassment that occurred while a person was in the military. This term is specifically a term used and defined by the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) and the definition for MST comes from federal law (Title 38 U.S. Code 1720D). MST is defined as "psychological trauma which resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexualharassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training."
The behavior may include physical force, threats of negative consequences, implied promotion, promises of favored treatment, or intoxication of either or both the perpetrator or victim. Other events that may be categorized as MST may include unwanted sexual contact, threatening, offensive remarks, and unwelcome sexual advances.
MST is something that happened to you. It is NOT a diagnosis or a mental health condition. As with other traumatic experiences, there are a variety of reactions that service members can have in response to MST, and can be based on additional factors such as:
Traumatic events can be life altering but many service members are incredibly resilient after experiencing trauma. Many service members can recover without the help of a professional, others may generally function well in their life, but can continue to experience symptoms in certain situations, and for some, MST may continue to affect their mental and physical health in significant ways, even many years later.
Some of the SYMPTOMS of MST may include (Department of Veterans Affairs, 2017):
Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is something that happened to you. It is NOT a diagnosis or a mental health condition. As with other traumatic experiences, there are a variety of reactions that service members can have in response to MST, so let’s dispel some myths upfront.
If you have found our page, that tells us that you think it’s possible that you had more than just a bad experience. It tells us that you think you may have been sexually assaulted.
Truth: Most sexual assaults that occur in the military are what we refer to as “acquaintance rape.” It is not a stranger who jumps out of the bushes and attacks you. It is a friend, a friends’ friend, someone in your unit, a superior, someone in the barracks, or someone you met at a bar. It can even be your significant other.
Truth: Of course you did!!! That is a normal response to an acquaintance rape. These are people you are trained to trust with your life. People who would take a bullet for you. People who would kill for you. It takes time for your brain to accept the fact that someone who would lay down their life for you may have sexually assaulted you. In the meantime, it is a normal response to revisit the people, places, and things involved (especially if there was alcohol or drugs) while you try to piece together what happened.
Truth: Fewer than 20% of rape victims get a medical examination within 24 hours of when a sexual assault occurs. Why? Because most victims of sexual assault don’t realize they have been assaulted until much later.
Truth: Unfortunately, this can be a true statement. However, 5PALMS is dedicated to educating the military justice system and commands about normal reactions to sexual assault, as well as lobbying for legislative change regarding the Good Soldier Defense and command authority over sexual assault cases. We are committed to making changes!
Truth: That is one of the hardest situations to be in, and you can feel completely helpless. Fortunately, we at 5PALMS are fearless advocates when it comes to the Military Justice System, and we are here to support you.
Truth: It’s possible that people know you were involved in an incident. Any victim of a military sexual assault is eligible for a Medical Evaluation Board (MEB) because of their assault (we can help you initiate this). They are also entitled to a Compassionate Reassignment if they chose to stay in the military (we can help you initiate this).