Newswise — Military sexual trauma (MST) is defined as sexual harassment and/or sexual trauma experienced during the course of military service. It includes uninvited or unwanted verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature, such as attention, verbal remarks, touching, sexual coercion, sexual assault, and rape. It happens to both men and women, and can have not only mental and physical but also behavioral health consequences such as substance use/abuse. Recent findings will be shared at the 40th annual scientific meeting of the Research Society on Alcoholism (RSA) in Denver June 24-28.
“A 2014 survey of more than a half million service members estimated that more than 21,000 service members are sexually assaulted annually,” said Jennifer Fillo, a postdoctoral fellow with the Research Institute on Addictions at The State University of New York at Buffalo. “Research both within and outside of the military has predominantly focused on women. However, men are the victims of approximately 60 percent of annual sexual assaults in the military. Yet much less is understood about the nature and consequences of MST for men.”
Furthermore, she added, while National Guard and Reserve units constitute more than 38 percent of the U.S. Armed Forces, only a few studies have focused specifically on their experience of MST.
“We found that MST was highly prevalent – more than 16 percent of male Reserve and National Guard service members during the most recent deployment,” said Fillo. “MST is also associated with a more than three times greater odds of alcohol problems years after it occurs. There is considerable need for more systematic screening and intervention for MST and related problems for Reserve and National Guard service members.” Fillo will present this research at the RSA meeting on June 27.
These findings were drawn from Operation: SAFETY, a longitudinal study examining health among U.S. Army Reserve/National Guard soldiers and partners (n=411). “It is important to note that 16.6 percent is likely a conservative estimate of MST prevalence among our study population,” noted Fillo. “Our research only looked at MST experienced during soldiers’ most recent deployment. However, our participants had been deployed an average of 1.7 times, which is on par with the national average for post-9/11 deployments.”
Fillo emphasized that is important for the public to understand that MST is serious issue for both women and men, and has long-term mental, physical and behavorial health implications. “Increasing awareness of MST will hopefully decrease the stigma associated with it,” she said. “Sexual assault is the most underreported violent act in the U.S. Currently, two thirds of men fail to report sexual assault experienced during their military career. Effective treatments exist, but people won’t get treatment if they are too afraid or ashamed to report the events to anyone.”
Fillo will present these findings during the RSA 2017 meeting on Tuesday, June 27 at 9:38 during “Risk and resiliency factors associated with alcohol misuse among military personnel” at the Hyatt Regency Denver.