by Lisa Dean
It is important for clinicians who treat women veterans and suffer from PTSD recognize the meaning of what the VA recognizes as PTSD due to Military Sexual Trauma (MST). Approximately half of active duty and female veterans and less than 5% of male military personnel and veterans have experienced MST. The lifetime rate of sexual assault is higher in the military with 28% of Air Force women being victimized at some point in their life, compared to 13% of the national civilian sample. The numbers of sexual assaults that occur among the active-duty military population are higher than compared to the civilian population or individuals serving part time in the Federal Reserves or the National Guard.
There has been a disturbing high rate of victims with Military Sexual Trauma (MST) with a stigma of a mental illness that is often neglected and professionally untreated. Furthermore, women veterans who are victims of MST are over twice as likely to experience homelessness. Furthermore, studies have found more female veterans experienced childhood sexual assault as compared to civilians who did not enter the military.
Select members of military units have separate opinions and believes regarding female service members. Combat arms units especially, causes varies dynamics of intergroup conflict. The male service member’s identity becomes more salient and dominant, influencing the development of the dual positive-we, negative-they perception. The male service member’s (ingroup) thoughts towards females (outgroup) are devalued and reverted to a homogeneous malevolent behavior. This can result from misinformation of females as well as from the metacontrast. The quality of interaction with female members is often more superficial instead of an equal. This behavior, perpetrators do not see the victim as an equal. Perceived external threat, especially in situations with a lack of information strengthens these feelings of insecurity.
Outgroup homogeneity in male units do not have as much contact with female service members and result in scapegoating, stereotyping, and fall into self-fulling prophecies. If male service members think that female service members are less capable, male service members will treat female in the way that will influence their behavior and thus reinforce their stereotype. If behavior of other individuals in the unit are in opposition to the male’s stereotypes about females, they will rather preserve their stereotypes and see this behavior as exceptional, rare, and uncommon.
There are several young Soldiers that have never had the experience of positive interaction with a different culture except within their own group which can perpetuate misogyny, or an idea of what masculinity should or should not be. Thus, when more individuals in the unit spurn the idea of females in combat units, the misogynist behavior becomes the norm. As a result, the victim’s identity is defined as the outgroup which again causes a circle of conflict.
MST Victims do not have a sense of belonging in the workplace and fall short of self-esteem. It was found in a report conducted in 2015 by Human Rights Watch that victims are advised by their chain of command that if victims report the crime, they could face criminal charges or non-judicial punishment for collateral misconduct. Furthermore, when a sexual assault does occur against a person of low organizational power, the rank structure can be intimidating for the victim to report the crime. When victims are considered the outgroup, behavioral psychology can be a significant factor when leaders create their command climate that should be functional and effective. Psychodynamic theory presents victims have an unconscious need for pleasure in the workplace such as personal drive and creativity (Eros) or harassment and discrimination which leads to aggression and conflict (Thanatos). This theory suggests victims do not have a sense of personal fulfillment and fall into a state of depression, anxiety, and fear.
Based on the 2016 DoD SAPR report, male on male rape cases, is it is come common for males over 30 be sexually assaulted at work and associated with hazing. Gang rapes in combat units can be seen as a hazing ritual and/or if the victim cannot perform an expected level of competency, especially in preparation for combat operations. Perpetrators that participate in rape initiations may not be ever found out and victims do not report the incident based on fear and lack of trust of the system. The perpetrators have established anonymity. Second, when gang rape occurs, many of the attackers gain the identity of the group and do not take individual responsibility. Male on male rape in the military, the victim will most likely not report the incident out of fear or will be disregarded by the authorities. Thus, the perpetrators have established anonymity. The larger the size of the group and anonymity, the more devastating the outcome. Reverberating sex crimes are not surprising when it continues because it may be part of the unit and individual responsibility is continually being detached from the perpetrator.
It is imperative clinicians are aware when treating veterans who are being treated for mental health may have experienced military sexual trauma and have a higher chance of substance abuse. A sense of trust and empathy between the veteran and clinician is crucial if one is to be treated with successful outcomes.
Call 855.494.0357 to learn about our mental health programs to help those who have experienced a military sexual trauma.