What is MST and what are its effects on health?

What is MST and what are its effects on health?

A little about me

I was sexually abused about 6 months after being assigned to my first Army unit in 2003.  After being threatened with an Article 15 (a form of military punishment that allows the unit’s commanding officer to decide the innocence or guilt of their subordinate member) to prevent me from speaking out, I decided not to pursue any official report of the abuse.  I mean, I put myself in the situation to be abused, therefore I was at fault, right?

Yes, you read that right.  I was threatened with punishment if I reported the assault.  And yes, you read that right – I blamed myself for the abuse.  As a result, I continued to live in fear (and I still do) and pursued a medical discharge for a minor elbow injury to get myself out of the horrifying position that I was in.  This experience completely ruined my career in the Army and has affected the rest of my life and relationships.

What is MST?

What happened to me is a form of Military Sexual Trauma, or MST.  Federal law (Title 38 U.S. Code 1720D), and subsequently the VA, has coined this term to describe any form of sexual harassment or abuse that endured during the time of military service.  The federally legal definition of MST is – “psychological trauma, which in the judgment of a VA mental health professional, resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty, active duty for training, or inactive duty training.”  

MST can range from unwanted sexual advances to sexual assault, such as (and this is by no means an inclusive list):

  • Touching;
  • Threats of sexual abuse;
  • Comments or remarks about a person’s body or sexual activity; and
  • Rape.

To be considered MST, the action must have been against the victim’s will.  Did you know that it is still considered MST if the victim is intoxicated (which is true of my trauma)?

What are the effects of MST?

I endured all of this.  I am numb to it and have no problem admitting it now.  Unsurprisingly, numbness is one of the effects of sexual trauma (really, trauma of any kind).  There are so many other symptoms that occur after trauma such as this, to include:

  • Depression, anxiety, and panic;
  • Sleep disturbance (sleeping too much or too little; trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep; nightmares);
  • Substance abuse disorders (alcoholism and illicit drug use);
  • Feeling overly alert or on edge;
  • Over-protectiveness of loved ones;
  • Dysfunctional relationships;
  • Varying health problems (such as chronic pain, headaches, and weight problems); and
  • PTSD.

I will discuss these symptoms and others in detail in another post, but it is important to shed some light on them here.  

While I feel numb to emotion regarding my trauma, I feel that it is important to say that I struggle with ALL of the aforementioned symptoms.  They are common amongst victims (I will explain in another post why I hate the word victim in terms of sexual abuse) and very normal.  However, it is important to not be afraid of them, but acknowledge them and seek help.  

Some Statistics

The statistics of MST among service-members is frightening.  Nevermind that, for now, as I will also save that for another post.  But what we need to be concerned with in the here and now is that MST is way too common.  The numbers are frightening to me because they are only indicative of the cases that are actually reported (unlike mine).  According to the VA, about 1 in 4 women and 1 in 100 men have indicated that they were sexuallly abused in some way.

How to get help

If you or someone you know is in crisis or needs someone to talk to, the Veterans Crisis Line is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and offers help by phone, text, or web chat.  I’ve personally utilized them several times and can attest to the effectiveness of just having someone to talk to confidentially.

This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. Liz

    Thanks for putting this topic out there. Soooo much more needs to be done for victims of MST and by means of prevention!!

    1. Stephanie

      Thank you, Liz! I’m here to scream this from the mountains! I’m not stopping here.

  2. Therese

    I had no idea this was happening at this rate. I’m so sorry for what you went through. I too know trauma, in different ways than this, but understand the effect it can have on us. It is healthy to write about it, it is good to get this information out there. Thank you for your courage!

    1. Stephanie

      I appreciate your acknowledgement, Therese! The rate of MST is likely much higher, considering so many incidents go unreported, like mine.

  3. Zi

    A very insightful post. Thank you for being so brave to talk about it and for sharing all this information on MST

    1. Stephanie

      Thank you, Zi! There is definitely much more to come on this topic.

  4. Jean C Seifert

    I believe you’ll be helping so many others who have suffered silently like you have all these years! I don’t care how long ago, these animals need to be held accountable! I’m happy that you’ve got this blog up and running…I’m sure it’ll help with your healing 💜 you have a beautiful heart and deserve to move on!

  5. Cathy

    This is such an important post. Thank you for sharing and helping others. I know of a woman who was sexually abused in the military and it’s not right at all. It should never happen. You should always feel safe where you work 💜

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