Male Survivors of Military Sexual Assault Need Support Too
April is National Sexual Assault Awareness Month, and the U.S. Army is embracing the opportunity to raise awareness and educate the military community about the need to prevent sexual violence.
The Army's theme is "Speak Up! A Voice Unheard is an Army Defeated," and that's a great message to promote. I also hope the Army shines a light on a little known fact about military sexual assault: There are more male victims of military sexual assault than women.
Does this surprise you? It surprised me when I read about it in an informative Chicago Tribune article by Colleen Mastony. The nuance in numbers lies in the difference between probabilities and populations.
It's true that women in the military are sexually assaulted at a higher rate than men. But because of the sheer number of men in the military compared to the much lower number of women, the number of men who are sexually assaulted each year is higher. For instance, the Department of Defense estimated that in 2012, approximately 13,900 men were sexually assaulted compared with about 12,100 women.
These numbers clearly speak to the need for equal and appropriate services for both military men and women who have experienced this kind of trauma. Unfortunately, men have been left out of the equation for a long time regarding available support and treatment. In 1992, when Congress authorized the Veterans Affairs health system to treat survivors of sexual trauma, the authorization only included "women" in its language, as if such trauma did not happen to men. As a result, many sexual trauma treatment programs were developed within VA women's health centers - not exactly environments that men would seek out for help. Thankfully, this changed in 2006 when sexual assault treatment programs moved from the women's health department to the mental health services department for oversight.
The progress continues. At the Captain James A. Lovell Federal Health Center in North Chicago, Illinois, social workers have created a support group solely for military men who have experienced sexual trauma. The group currently has 10 members and has every indication of becoming a stellar example of how to do the right thing.
I applaud the VA for starting to take steps to provide support for men as well as women in the military who have experienced sexual assault. After everything these service members have done for our country, we owe it to them to provide the support and treatment they need and more than deserve.
Mastony, C. (March 31, 2014). Support groups ease suffering of male victims of military sex assaults: VA health care center reaches out to male victims who often stay silent for years about trauma. Chicago Tribune: http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2014-03-30/news/ct-male-survivors-military-sexual-trauma-met-20140330_1_sexual-assault-support-group-10-men