The Trauma Lines Blog

Association of Traumatic Stress Specialists

Washington Seeks to Fight Military Sexual Trauma…But What’s the Best Way?

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“What I had to deal with in the Air Force just about destroyed me,” [Vietnam Vet JoAnn] White told The Arizona Republic. “I hope telling what happened to me will help other women. I am fed up and tired. I want the word out there.”

The ongoing conflict in the Middle East has unfortunately forced many around this country to wage a different war, one not fought with guns or missiles, one fought with lawsuits and legislation.

Military sexual trauma (MST) is an issue our military has been dealing with for a long, long time. Take JoAnn’s case, she’s still unable to work because of the abuse she sustained from her peers while serving in Vietnam.

And obviously, the problem of MST persists to this day:

Last year, 3,158 sexual assaults were reported by men and women serving in all branches of the Armed Forces, according to the Department of Defense’s Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military. But the department estimates that last year’s number reflects only about 13.5 percent of the total number of assaults on men and women in active duty last year.

Another estimate from the VA says a mere 10 percent of the total abuse cases which occur are actually reported.

Many are trying to change that, including our lawmakers who introduced the “Defense Sexual Trauma Response, Oversight and Good Governance” — or Defense STRONG — Act last month:

If passed, it would give military sexual assault victims the right to legal counsel and to transfer to another base after making a complaint. The bill also would mandate increased training on bases to prevent sex assaults.

But is the real problem for MST victims the lack of resources or the “culture” of the military itself?

Many believe that the best way to get at the root problem of sexual violence is through training early in a military career.

“Correcting the culture within the military is being done in a very pointed way,” said Joice Jones, a civilian social worker who coordinates Luke Air Force Base’s sexual assault prevention and response program and helps run prevention workshops.

Jones compares many of the airmen and airwomen stationed at Luke to first-year college students: They are away from home for the first time and need information about date rape prevention as well as how to intervene if they see someone on base being sexually harassed or assaulted.

READERS: How can our government best address this epidemic? Does it come down to funding, is it merely the actions of a few bad seeds, or should our military look into overhauling its entire “culture”?

Written by traumalines

May 24, 2011 at 5:30 pm

One Response

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  1. From my own experience in the Army, the problem with sexual harassment and trauma is pervasive throughout military life. I am a female and experienced numerous events of sexual harassment and other encounters with higher ranking NCOs and officers. I was able to brush much of it off with either a sharp retort, rolling my eyes, or just walking away. But when I did finally attempt to communicate a situation that was making me incredibly uncomfortable, my comments (to our FEMALE EO officer) were brushed off. She used the regulations to twist the situation and make it look like something that wasn’t reportable. But the way I felt inside about this particular person (our Company First Sergeant) made it certain to me that his behavior was NOT acceptable . I knew then that there was really no point in trying to report anything else. It would be up to me to deal with it.

    Honestly, I think that men will talk bull and swagger to each other as part of their own ego, self-esteem, and bonding and they do it for the most part without any intention of harassing or hurting the other person. Men try to do this with women, too, but females don’t bond with other females in this way. Men are attracted to women, which in some ways is a lot like jealousy, envy, or adoration they might have for other men’s lives, body parts, intellects, whatever. I think men just naturally cross that line with females without meaning malice, anguish, or injury. Most military men I knew were not out to hurt women…

    The camaraderie and close working relationships that develop from sharing difficult or challenging experiences naturally lead to sexual attraction—this is true for both sexes. It’s troublesome that the services haven’t figured out a way to honestly acknowledge that unwanted sexual advances happen and teach women good ways to deal with them. A “No Tolerance” policy only encourages those who have been harassed to not report the encounter. I, for one, wouldn’t want to send someone to Leavenworth because he was attracted to me and was too boneheaded to realize that I didn’t want to sleep with him.

    I don’t have all the answers. It just seems like more regulation and mandatory training is not going to help. Military reg should recognize that sometimes a hug from a Sergeant who is a friend and a hug from a First Sergeant who is NOT a friend is not the same thing and shouldn’t be treated as such. The way the reg was applied in my case only served to fail me twice: it didn’t stop the harassment from happening nor did it provide me with an avenue for redress.

    Linda Smith

    July 7, 2011 at 9:31 pm

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