There were 5,240 official reports of sexual assault involving service members in 2016. It’s currently estimated that 77% of service member sexual assaults go unreported.1 A majority of these women may be diagnosed with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Military Sexual Trauma (MST) refers to sexual assault, threatening sexual harassment, rape, or any sexual activity in which someone is involved against their will. The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) has implemented universal screening for MST, and provides medical and mental health services free of charge to enrolled veterans who report MST.
Stigma is a significant deterrent to reporting MST. Many military service members do not report sexual abuse due to fear of not being believed, worry about career impact, fear of retribution, or a belief that their victimization will be minimized. 2 There is also a perceived stigma associated with seeking mental health treatment after experiencing MST.3
- Often report a loss of professional and personal identity
- Are at increased risk of re-traumatization through blame, misdiagnosis and being questioned about the validity of their experience 4
- Are at increased risk of retaliation through the process of getting help
- Have an increased risk of suicide 7
A majority of female veterans who indicated being sexually assaulted during their military service met the criteria for a diagnosis of PTSD, according to a study of 325 women in Southern California.5 Only 14% of the women reported actually seeking help or treatment immediately after their assault. However, over 75% reported receiving mental health counseling within the past year, or years after assault.
The fallout from military sexual assaults cost the U.S. $3.6 billion in 2013 alone, according to RAND Corporation, an international research organization focusing on public policy, military and national security issues. The estimate is based on a calculation of the cost of medical and mental health services victims are likely to seek after an incident, as well as other “intangible costs”.6