Saturday, June 8, 2013

Thinking Out Loud: Military Sexual Trauma

I'd like to take a moment to talk about a serious issues that I personally have had to deal with. While I'm really open about my bipolar diagnosis, this certain topic is something that I haven't talked about publicly...other than when I do a guest lecture in the mental health/psych nursing class that I used to teach. Sure, my husband knows about it and both my therapists now about it. So why don't I talk about it? It's because I had never really classified it as rape or military sexual trauma (MST). MST includes rape, sexual assault and sexual harassment until recently.

This is what happened...I was graduating from tech school (Air Force job training) and our class decided to have a party at another classmates duplex. The alcohol was free flowing and being a lightweight I had drank enough to start vomiting. My classmate and his wife had set up some extra mattresses in case this happened. So I lay down on the mattress and pretty quickly passed out. The next thing I knew I was waking up in one of the bedrooms upstairs with a student that I totally despised. I really didn't understand what had happened but I chalked it  up as being my fault since I had gotten drunk and lost my senses. Does this sound familiar? Maybe someone drank heavily like I had or had been roofied, but in either case could not recollect the circumstances for their situation. How many of us who fell into this type of situation blame ourselves for it happening? I just rationalized it that I must have agreed to the interaction, I just couldn't remember...but why with this person that I could not even stand next to?

This all happened in 1983 approximately March or April. This was before the services spoke publicly about rape within the military. It was still very much a man's military, it was the few women who were still breaking barriers in jobs that had in the past been purely given to men. My seemingly innocent rationalization of the situation in a way, I guess, enabled me to put this in the back of my mind as if it had been dealt with. I guess it was the acceptance that what had happened was my fault, now I know it wasn't, helped me go on with life. I didn't report it to anyone I just went about with my transfer to my first duty station. After disclosing this event to my current therapist, he came to help me understand that yes, in fact, I had been a victim of sexual assault or MST.
Wrongful sexual contact 28%; Nonconsensual sodomy 7%;
Aggravated sexual contact 3%; Rape 31%; Aggravated sexual assault 30%;
Attempts to commit these offenses <1%;Other ~3%

Another reason I had probably been able to rationalize the problem is that I had been molested at about 11-12 years old. I guess I may have dealt with that in the same way. However, I did tell my mother (he was her boyfriend) and she didn't believe me so maybe there was some ingrained thought that if I had told someone that it would just have been brushed under the run like things were back then when it came to rape/MST.

Why did I decide to open up about this now? Well, it's been on my mind and my therapist said that I should think about it and talk about it...I don't think he meant quite in this fashion though! lol! The real reason is because there's been a lot of talk lately about military sexual trauma. Let's not forget that these things happen not only to women, but also to men. I, in fact, know several women and one man that I used to work with who are victims of MST.

Silence doesn't do anyone any good!
In 2008-2011 the number of female veterans receiving VA health care showed an estimated 15-20% as reporting to have been victims of some sort of MST. The same studies showed that male victims ranged from 0.7 - 1.2%. These numbers reflect only those who actively sought care from the VA. Who knows how many out there, much like myself, never divulge this information to anyone? Thankfully I'm comfortable enough in my own skin to talk openly about this. If you know a military member who is keeping their abuse hidden, help them to understand that it wasn't their fault and to report it, if they are not comfortable with their immediate supervisor move up the chain of command (I know, this is typically not how the military works)...this type of event should not go untreated or without punishment to the offender.

I'm happy to see that MST is a major talking point now, but the commanders at the top are still hemming and hawing as to how severe the punishment should be, especially in the case of officers. Unfortunately, many like me have to live with the knowledge that we were taken advantage of unwillingly. I know female veterans from the early 70's who are just now coming out of the woodwork to seek care. In my case, my therapist believes that this situation may indeed be one of the triggers in my bipolar diagnosis.

I just want to see that any veteran, male or female, who have been victims of MST are able to get the help that they need. So kudos to the services for acknowledging MST, but I'll shake my finger at them until they realize the appropriate punishment for such an action. Kudos to the VA for trying to identify as many victims and attempting to get them the care they need because for some of us the trauma, pain and shame have never gone away or gotten to the point that we understand what happened and know that it was not our fault.

Thanks for "listening" to this little rant, I hope that it helps someone out there to seek help and report their abuse.

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