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Published January 24, 2014, 01:37 PM

What is MST?

WHAT IS MST? Military sexual trauma refers to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment experienced by a member of the military during his or her service; it includes any sexual activity that occurred against his or her will (with manipulation – threats of negative consequences or hints at better treatment with cooperation, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or with physical force).

By: Meredith Holt, INFORUM

WHAT IS MST?

Military sexual trauma refers to sexual assault or repeated, threatening sexual harassment experienced by a member of the military during his or her service; it includes any sexual activity that occurred against his or her will (with manipulation – threats of negative consequences or hints at better treatment with cooperation, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, or with physical force).

MST can occur on or off base and while the service member is on or off duty. Perpetrators can be men or women, military personnel or civilians, commanding officers or subordinates, strangers, friends or intimate partners. Veterans from all branches and eras of service – from World War II to the Iraq War – have reported MST.

COMMON EXPERIENCES

MST is an experience, not a diagnosis or a mental health condition, and as with other types of trauma, there are a variety of reactions that veterans can have in response to it.

Some of the experiences reported by both male and female survivors of MST include:

• Strong emotions: feeling depressed; having intense, sudden emotional reactions to things; feeling angry or irritable all the time

• Feelings of numbness: feeling emotionally “flat”; difficulty experiencing emotions like love or happiness

• Trouble sleeping: trouble falling or staying asleep; disturbing nightmares

• Difficulties with attention, concentration and memory: trouble staying focused; frequently finding their mind wandering; having a hard time remembering things

• Problems with alcohol or other drugs: drinking to excess or using drugs daily; getting intoxicated or high to cope with memories or emotional reactions; drinking to fall asleep

• Difficulty with things that remind them of their experiences with sexual trauma: feeling on edge or “jumpy” all the time; difficulty feeling safe; going out of their way to avoid reminders of their experiences

• Difficulties in relationships: feeling isolated or disconnected from others; abusive relationships; trouble with employers or authority figures; difficulty trusting others

• Physical health problems: sexual difficulties; chronic pain; weight or eating problems; gastrointestinal problems

HOW CAN VETS GET HELP?

For more information, veterans can speak with their existing VA health care provider, contact the MST coordinator at their nearest VA Medical Center, or contact their local Vet Center. A list of VA and Vet Center facilities can be found at www.va.gov and www.vetcenter.va.gov.

Source: Veterans Affairs

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