Military Sexual Trauma and Non-Combat Related PTSD in Veterans

Published On: September 15, 2022|Categories: PTSD, Trauma|

In veterans, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is most often associated with combat. However, other common experiences during military service can be traumatic and lead to the development of PTSD.

Sexual assault and sexual harrassment are examples of traumatic events that frequently occur during military service. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) uses the term “military sexual trauma” to encompass all forms of sexual activity during military service in which an individual is involved against their will or while unable to say no.

Military sexual trauma doesn’t discriminate based on gender, age, sexual orientation, racial/ethnic background or branch of service. Unfortunately, anyone can become a victim of sexual misconduct. 

Examples of military sexual trauma

According to the VA, examples of situations resulting in military sexual trauma include the following:

  • Pressure or coercion to engage in sex acts, i.e. threatening negative consequences if you refuse or bribing with positive treatment if you agree
  • Sexual contact without consent, including while under the influence of substances or asleep
  • Being physically overpowered or forced into sexual activities
  • Sexual touching that made you uncomfortable, including during “hazing” experiences
  • Threatening comments about sex or your body 
  • Unwanted sexual advances 

If you’ve experienced sexual assault, abuse or harrassment while serving our country, you’re not alone.

How prevalent is military sexual trauma?

Rates of military sexual trauma are higher in women than men. About 1 in 3 women and 1 in 50 men report experiencing military sexual trauma, according to national data from the VA screening program. 

However, while this statistic may lead you to believe that very few men experience sexual abuse or harrassment while serving in the military, it’s important to note that there are many more men than women in the military. More than 1 in 3 of the veterans who tell their provider that they’ve experienced military sexual trauma are actually male.

The data above only reflect the number of individuals who responded “yes” to experiencing military sexual trauma when screened by their VA provider. Consequently, the actual rates of military sexual trauma could be much higher when including those cases that go unreported.

Other forms of non-combat PTSD

Military sexual trauma isn’t the only type of trauma that a service member might face outside of combat. Sometimes known as civilian PTSD, non-combat PTSD is still PTSD; it’s the same condition, with the same types of symptoms and effects on the impacted individual’s daily life.

Other examples of non-combat related trauma include:

  • Domestic violence or abuse 
  • Childhood physical and/or emotional abuse
  • Childhood neglect
  • Natural disasters
  • Violent crime
  • Being threatened with a weapon
  • Motor vehicle/transportation accidents
  • Witnessing violence or death of another person 
  • Sudden death of a close friend or family member
  • Exposure to suicide
  • Kidnapping or imprisonment

This is not an exhaustive list; any traumatic event involving the risk or perceived risk of grievous injury or death can lead to PTSD.

Signs and symptoms of non-combat related PTSD

Whether an individual has witnessed an act of terrorism, experienced sexual abuse or been involved in a life-threatening accident, any type of traumatic event can negatively affect a person’s mental and physical health. These effects may show up many months or even years later. 

Women are at a higher risk of developing non-combat PTSD. In the overall population, women are about twice as likely to develop PTSD than men. However, this figure may be skewed by the unfortunate fact that men are less likely than women to seek much-needed treatment for mental health conditions.

Some signs that you or a loved one may be suffering from PTSD include:

  • Intrusive memories or nightmares of the event
  • Feeling unsafe
  • Depression, sadness or numbness
  • Substance use to cope with negative feelings
  • Isolating from loved ones
  • Anger or irritability
  • Feeling “on edge”
  • Feelings of guilt, self-doubt or shame related to the event
  • Decreased self esteem
  • Sleep problems

If you are experiencing troubling symptoms of PTSD from sexual assault or abuse during military service, or other non-combat related trauma, our team at Pyramid Military Therapy & Recovery Programs is here to help. We specialize in delivering evidence-based, trauma-focused treatment for mental health and substance use disorders. 

At Pyramid, we understand the unique needs of those who have served, and work tirelessly to help you achieve the rest and recovery you deserve. Our safe, non-judgmental atmosphere allows you to embrace treatment in ways that create distance from stressors, triggers, and discomfort.

Contact us at 814-631-5676 to learn more about how we can help you or a loved one heal from trauma.

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