Military Sexual Trauma


At Willow House at the Meadows, women are guided on their journey of recovery by examining the underlying causes of any co-occurring mental health disorders. The goal is for these individuals to gain the courage to face difficult issues, heal from emotional trauma, and become accountable for their own feelings, behaviors, and recovery.

When not addressed, MST has been shown to negatively affect a person’s mental and physical health, even many years later.

The Basics of Military Sexual Trauma

The term “military sexual trauma” (MST) refers to sexual assault or threatening sexual harassment experienced during military service, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. They define MST as including any sexual activity during military service in which you are involved against your will or when unable to say no.

Examples of Military Sexual Trauma:

  • Being pressured or coerced into sexual activities, such as with threats of negative treatment if you refuse to cooperate or with promises of better treatment
  • Sexual contact or activities without your consent, including when you were asleep or intoxicated
  • Being overpowered or physically forced to have sex
  • Being touched or grabbed in a sexual way that made you uncomfortable, including during “hazing” experiences
  • Comments about your body or sexual activities that you found threatening
  • Unwanted sexual advances that you found threatening

Source: US Department of Veterans Affairs

Military Sexual Trauma's Impact

No one is immune to MST. People of all genders, ages, orientations, ethnicities, and branches of service have experienced military sexual trauma, and like other types of trauma, it leaves a mark. When not addressed, MST has been shown to negatively affect a person’s mental and physical health, even many years later.

Common effects of MST:

  • Disturbing memories or nightmares
  • Difficulty feeling safe
  • Feelings of depression or numbness
  • Using alcohol or other drugs to numb or escape from negative feelings
  • Feeling isolated from other people
  • Difficulties with anger, irritability, or other strong emotions
  • Self-doubt, self-blame, or decreased self-esteem
  • Issues with sleep
  • Physical health problems

Source: US Department of Veterans Affairs

What Are the Statistics for Military Sexual Trauma?

  • 7% of military personnel and veterans report military sexual trauma
  • 9% of men and 38.4% of women report experiencing MST when the measure includes both harassment and assault
  • 9% of men and 23.6% of women report experiencing MST when the measure assesses only assault
  • Regardless of the type of victimization incident, women evidenced significantly larger prevalence rates compared to men.
  • The findings suggest that MST is a pervasive problem, among both men and women in the military

Source: The Prevalence of Military Sexual Trauma: A Meta-Analysis

Overcoming Military Sexual Trauma

After experiencing military sexual trauma, you may be unsure where to turn or wonder if it’s even possible to recover and reclaim your life. But help and support are available. While no trauma is the same, many others have been in your shoes. You can get well.

Where Do You Start?

Here are some ways to begin the healing process:

  • Recognize that you are not alone and you can recover.
  • Seek help from a treatment professional or program. You may want to get help outside of the VA. A trained counselor, therapist, or treatment team can help you work through your trauma.
  • Get into a support group. These are environments where others will show you that you are not alone, and you can help each other reach a place of healing.

Also Read: Exploring Military Sexual Trauma on our Willow House blog.

Getting Help for Military Sexual Trauma at Willow House

While MST is overwhelming, there is hope. Even the most severe and complicated cases are treatable. With proper care, individuals can enjoy a life of purpose and joy. Willow House’s women-only atmosphere allows patients to drop the façade of being okay and invites them to work through the shame, pain, and trauma. In a safe and nurturing community composed of their peers, women are guided on their journey of recovery.

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