Military veterans are very respectable citizens of the United States. They have devoted their lives to serve and protect their fellow Americans since the Revolutionary War. However, the servicemen and servicewomen of the U.S. Armed Forces do encounter difficult moments that may affect them for the rest of their lives. One of those difficult moments are when they encountered traumatic, sexual harassment and/or assault during their service in the military. In fact, these experiences that the service members faced are considered as “military sexual trauma”.
The Definition of Military Sexual Trauma
According to the VA Healthcare from the U.S. Department of Veterans, military sexual trauma (MST) refers to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that happened while a veteran was in the military.
Sexual harassment and assault affect both men and women in military service. Sadly, it can lead to former and current service members to develop mental and physical health problems. Some of these problems include anxiety disorders and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
The effects on survivors
Even if the sexual harassment and assault occured long ago, its effects still impact strongly on MST military veteran survivors. According to a post from TheDoctorsTV.com titled “Veteran Sexual Trauma Survivor Returns with PTSD Breakthrough”, 1 in 5 women in the military have been a victim of sexual violence.
As a result, it makes them 9 times more likely to develop PTSD. In that same article, a woman named Debra, who is a homeless veteran and a single mother, discussed her experiences. Her past experiences with sexual assault in the military had led her to develop crippling PTSD.
Debra’s successful treatment
Unfortunately, those experiences also led her to have chronic pain in her back and hips. The chronic pain that she developed had led her to needing medical treatment.
Today, things are different for her now. Debra is currently having a vibrant life that is due to the work conducted by help orthopedic surgeon Dr. Brad Thomas, who helps treated her physical pain, and anesthesiologist Dr. Eugene Lipov, who treated her PTSD.
The tragic death of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen
On June 30, 2020, the whole nation reacted with shock at the news that the remains of Army Spc. Vanessa Guillen were found near Fort Hood, Texas. Vanessa Guillen was thought to have been killed by a fellow soldier who later died by suicide as stated by the military. She was last seen on April 22 and the suspect in the killing, Spc. Aaron Robinson, killed himself a few months later.
Ever since Guillen’s remains were found, her family are still fighting for justice in memory of their beloved sister and daughter. The Guillen family have repeatedly denounced the command climate and culture at Fort Hood while advocating for the protection of soldiers stationed at the military base.
Independent panel review on Fort Hood
According to a report released by the Army on December 8, an independent review found that the command climate at Fort Hood created “a permissive environment for sexual assault and sexual harassment”. As a result, 14 Fort Hood leaders were suspended or relieved from their positions. For 19 days in August and September, the independent review panel conducted 80 group interviews. In fact, these interviews encompassed over 1,800 soldiers, as well as 647 individual interviews as part of the investigation.
503 of those 647 individual interviews conducted were with female service members as stated by Chris Swecker, one of the independent review panel members. Swecker said, “What we found was that there was a fear of retaliation, all forms of retaliation, stigmatism, ostracism, derailing a career and work assignments”.
Resources and support groups listed by the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence (OCADSV)
Fortunately, there are many resources that all affected veterans, male and female alike, can look for. These resources are very helpful for many survivors as they begin their road to recovery. Organizations like the Oregon Coalition Against Domestic & Sexual Violence (OCADSV) listed diverse support groups and resources for harassment and assault survivors in Oregon. The organization also developed a pilot support group curriculum for women veterans who have experienced sexual violence while serving in the Armed Forces.
American Journal of Nursing scholarly journal article
Additionally, the Lippincott NursingCenter provided a scholarly journal article from the American Journal of Nursing that described that male veterans have also experienced sexual harassment and assault on a frequent basis. The article described how male military service members experienced MST.
Furthermore, it also examined how social stereotypes of masculinity, myths surrounding sexual assault, and military culture and structure can affect a man’s interpretation of an attack and his likelihood of reporting the incident or seeking treatment.
Organizations devoted to supporting veterans suffering from assault and harassment
A Massachusetts-based nonprofit called Clear Path for Veterans New England (Clear Path NE) provides free care for veterans seeking treatment. That free care helps veterans who may be having a difficult health condition due to past experiences from sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment that occurred in the military.
MakeTheConnection.net also provides personal stories of military personnel who encounter unwanted sexual advances and behavior during their service. The stories that Make The Connection presents, as well as important tools, options, and resources, shows that it understands the pain that MST veterans had to encounter and later had to relive after they leave the service.
Much-needed support and assistance for victims
Organizations like Clear Path NE and Make The Connection work hard to give the help that military sexual violence victims deserve. This support and assistance is necessary so that they can live joyful lives with their families and themselves.
Sexual trauma affects everyone, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, and gender. Every person should understand how trauma from sexual violence can change the lives of victims who have gone through it. In fact, some of those victims can be their own friends and family members as well.
What to do next?
The military should regularly collaborate with individuals and organizations that contributing to the prevention of further sexual harassment and abuse towards the servicemen and women of the U.S. Armed Forces. People are serving or have served in the military made many sacrifices to ensure that their fellow citizens remain safe.
It is time that everyone should remain aware of the sexual violence and harassment that occurred in the military. With great awareness, the tragedies that struck service members such as Vanessa Guillen will never happen again.