What is MST and
how can a service
During their service, both female and male Service members sometimes have upsetting, unwanted sexual experiences, including sexual assault or sexual harassment. “Military sexual trauma” or MST is the term used by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs to refer to these experiences. The official definition of MST used by VA is given by federal law (U.S. Code 1720D of Title 38). It 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 or active duty for training.
Sexual harassment is defined as “repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character.”
In more concrete terms, MST includes any sexual activity where you were involved against your will. You may have been physically forced into sexual activities. Or, no physical force may have been used but you were coerced or pressured into sexual activities. For example, you may have been threatened with negative consequences for refusing to cooperate. Or it may have been suggested that you would get faster promotions or better treatment in exchange for sex. These are all signs of MST.
Military sexual trauma also includes sexual experiences that happened while you were not able to consent to sexual activities, such as if you were intoxicated. Other MST experiences include unwanted sexual touching or grabbing, threatening, offensive remarks about your body or your sexual activities, and threatening and unwelcomed sexual advances. If these experiences occurred while you were on active duty or active duty for training, they are considered to be MST.
It’s important to know that MST can occur on or off base, during war or peacetime, and while a Service member is on or off duty. Perpetrators can be men or women, military personnel or civilians, superiors or subordinates in the chain of command. They may have been a stranger to you, or even a friend or intimate partner. Veterans from all eras of service have reported experiencing MST.
If you experienced military sexual assault or harassment, you may blame yourself or feel ashamed. It is important to remember that MST is not your fault. Nothing ever justifies someone harassing or assaulting you.