It’s pretty well documented, the sexual abuse that many female victims have faced while in the military. And how often those cases are mishandled with the victims so often shamed. Now GQ is shining a light on another, perhaps bigger problem of military sexual trauma that rarely is discussed, and that’s because it involves men.
The sexual abuse of men occurs at a higher rate and often goes unreported. When the victims do report their attackers they’re often discharged less than honorably, diagnosed with mental illness or personality disorders and refused treatment by the VA. These men are left unable to function in their other relationships with their children and their significant others and many suffer longterm injuries from the attacks.
Here are some excerpts via GQ:
Sexual assault is alarmingly common in the U.S. military, and more than half of the victims are men. According to the Pentagon, thirty-eight military men are sexually assaulted every single day. These are the stories you never hear—because the culprits almost always go free, the survivors rarely speak, and no one in the military or Congress has done enough to stop it
The moment a man enlists in the United States armed forces, his chances of being sexually assaulted increase by a factor of ten. Women, of course, are much more likely to be victims of military sexual trauma (MST), but far fewer of them enlist. In fact, more military men are assaulted than women—nearly 14,000 in 2012 alone. Prior to the repeal of “Don’t ask, don’t tell” in 2011, male-on-male-rape victims could actually be discharged for having engaged in homosexual conduct. That’s no longer the case—but the numbers show that men are still afraid to report being sexually assaulted.
Military culture is built upon a tenuous balance of aggression and obedience. The potential for sexual violence exists whenever there is too much of either. New recruits, stripped of their free will, cannot question authority. A certain kind of officer demands sex from underlings in the same way he demands they pick up his laundry. A certain kind of recruit rapes his peer in a sick mimicry of the power structure: I own you totally. “One of the myths is that the perpetrators identify as gay, which is by and large not the case,” says James Asbrand, a psychologist with the Salt Lake City VA’s PTSD clinical team. “It’s not about the sex. It’s about power and control.”
To understand this problem and why it persists twenty-two years after the Tailhook scandal, GQ interviewed military officials, mental-health professionals, and policy-makers, as well as twenty-three men who are survivors not only of MST but also of a bureaucracy that has failed to protect them.
This is terrible.
An overpowering shame prevents many enlisted men from reporting an assault—a sense that they must somehow be complicit in what has happened to them. Straight men often question their own sexual orientation, while gay men may struggle to find intimacy in relationships because they don’t trust other men (or their own judgment). Telling the secret ruptures families and friendships. So does not telling.
The rape of a male soldier has a particular symbolism. “In a hypermasculine culture, what’s the worst thing you can do to another man? Force him into what the culture perceives as a feminine role,” says Asbrand of the Salt Lake City VA. “Completely dominate and rape him.”
But shame isn’t the only reason these men so often say nothing. Another is fear—of physical retaliation, professional ruin, social stigma. Research suggests that the military brass may have conspired to illegally discharge MST victims by falsely diagnosing them with personality disorders. “The military has a systemic personality disorder discharge problem,” write the authors of a 2012 Yale Law School white paper. Between 2001 and 2010, some 31,000 servicepersons were involuntarily discharged for personality disorders. It is likely that in many cases these were sham diagnoses meant to rid the ranks of MST victims. “If they want you to be schizophrenic,” says Trent Smith, an MST survivor currently fighting his discharge from the Air Force, “you’re schizophrenic.” These diagnoses also spare the government the costs of aftercare: The VA considers a personality disorder to be a pre-existing condition, so it won’t cover the expense of treatment for PTSD caused by a sexual assault.
Above all, MST victims keep quiet because they do not believe their attackers will be punished. And they’re almost certainly right. The conviction rate in MST cases that go to trial is just 7 percent. An estimated 81 percent of male MST victims never report being attacked. Perhaps it should astonish us that any of them do.
We feel for these men and their families. Why has this been allowed to continue for so long? Why hasn’t it been addressed? Thank God it’s being brought to light now.
We encourage you to read the full article in GQ but felt it was important to share at least one of the firsthand accounts.
THE CASE OF HEATH PHILLIPS
“The two main guys—their nickname was the Twin Towers. They held themselves like they were God and untouchable. They were both six feet five or above, 250 pounds. I weighed maybe 120 pounds soaking wet. As soon as the Twin Towers came near you, you instantly wanted to pee yourself.
The main attacks were at night. When you’re being dragged out of your bunk literally by your ear, you can’t fight, because they’re doing these funky things with your fingers, twisting them, and they’re ripping your mouth open, and then they got another guy that has his fingers in your nose or in your eyes to make you open your mouth. That’s what always used to bother me: I’m screaming, yelling, fighting, and nobody is even moving their curtains to look.
I went AWOL; I couldn’t take it no more. I tried hanging myself. I was living in the streets, and I got arrested shoplifting, and they sent me to the brig. Then I got sent back to the same berthing area, where they started terrorizing me again. The final straw was, I was taking a shower and these guys beat me up and raped me with a toilet brush. Medical told me I probably had a hemorrhoid. I went AWOL again, then turned myself in a couple of days later. Finally my executive officer came back [proposing] I take an other-than-honorable discharge.
To this day I don’t know why they did it, because they had beautiful girlfriends. I just happened to be one of their victims.”
Justice for the victims of MST. Lets do our part by being supportive to men who have been victimized and remove the stigma of male sexual assault.