81 Percent of Military Sexual Assaults Against Men Go Unreported

Author: Wendy Innes
Created: 07 June, 2013
Updated: 14 October, 2022
6 min read

According to a Pentagon report released in May, 1.2 percent of active duty male service members have been victims of military sexual trauma (MST). That breaks down to approximately 38 men per day in comparison to 33 women per day, according to the same report.

Despite this, men seldom ever report the assault, and even if they do, they are often met with insensitivity, disbelief and sometimes, open hostility. Because of this, men have become the silent victims of the military sexual assault crisis.

"Every day of my life since the very initial rape has not gone by without my heart being ripped out by a trigger reminding me of what happened," said Jay Herron, a Vietnam era veteran and rape survivor.

Herron suffers from complex post traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) as a result of multiple rapes that took place will he was in the Navy. In his blog, Herron says he can't even use a restroom without being reminded of what happened to him. The trauma he endured led to his family rejecting him, difficulty in keeping a job, and substance abuse problems.

The Myths of Male Rape

"Too often male survivors are ignored and marginalized," Brian Lewis said in an interview with NBC.

Lewis is another Navy veteran and MST survivor who was raped by a superior office aboard ship in 2000. Lewis appears in the eye opening documentary, titled "Justice Denied." The film is the work of social worker Geri Lynn Matthews and her husband, Michael, who is also a MST survivor.

"The issue with men being raped, whether civilian or military, is stigma," said Kristen Zaleski, Ph.D., who works with victims of MST -- previously through the VA and now in private practice. "The perpetrator is rarely homosexual or looking for sexual release."

Rape, whether committed against a man or a woman, is a crime of control, violence, and power over the victim.

"We know this crime is a crime of control and aggression and has nothing to do with sex," Herron said.

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This fact is echoed by Lewis:

"In a lot of areas of the military, men are still viewed as having wanted it or of being homosexual. That’s not correct at all. It’s a crime of power and control."

This is just one of the barriers that keep victims from reporting assaults.

So Few Reports

According to the Pentagon's report, an estimated 81 percent of military sexual assaults against men are never reported to military authorities, and just 5 percent of these attacks are reported to civilian law enforcement.

This means tens of thousands of military men are left to cope with the shame, guilt, anger, and fear of MST in silence, often for years, before they find the courage to get help. By then, they have often deteriorated into severe mental illness, homelessness, and substance abuse.

The VA reports that 40 percent of those who report being a victim of MST and seeking treatment are men. They also note that the number of victims could be much higher since not every veteran registers with his or her local VA center upon leaving the military.

Men who do visit their local VA for treatment are often seen for the problems that occur after the assault, not the assault itself, such as PTSD or other mental health concerns. Substance abuse problems are common in male victims of MST as they try to medicate away all the emotions they are left to deal with.

A 2011 report in the Journal of Trauma and Dissociation found that there are indeed many barriers that prevent men in the military from reporting MST. These include:

  • Avoidance/Blocking the incident
  • Fear of Retribution
  • Fear of facing charges under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) for associated behaviors, such as underage drinking
  • Fear of re-assignment to less than desirable position
  • Fear of not being believed

These fears are not unfounded. Often, even if a victim finds the courage to report the attack, they are met with callousness, disbelief, and are often shunned by their peers, despite the fact that reports are supposed to be confidential. It's virtually impossible to investigate a crime in complete secrecy.

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It's a fact that retaliation is prevalent in the military, especially if the person who attacked the victim is of superior rank in the victim's chain of command. Stories of victims becoming the subjects of investigations for drug use after being drugged and raped are common, but the retaliation gets worse.

In April 2012, CNN reported on one of the shocking tactics that has been used against those who report MST; they are labeled as crazy and tossed out of the service, sometimes with an "Other than Honorable" discharge. This means they are not entitled to any further benefits from the VA or any retirement or pension pay.

A Freedom of Information Act request from the Vietnam Veterans of America showed that between 2001 and 2010, the military discharged more than 31,000 veterans who had been diagnosed with "personality disorders," but the DoD claims it doesn't keep records of how many of those people reported being sexually assaulted before being discharged.

Many who have had to endure this treatment say they never even received an evaluation before receiving the diagnosis -- one that, if true, would make it virtually impossible to even make it through boot camp.

Even if an attack is reported, according to Rep. Jackie Speier (D-CA14), there is little chance that anything will become of it. The reason is that the UCMJ allows the victim's commanding officer great power in determining what the outcome will be.

Even if the rapist is convicted, under the current law, the commanding officer, called the convening authority, has the power to overturn the conviction. This was the case in Aviano, Italy earlier this year when the Inspector General of the 31st Fighter Wing was convicted of sexual assault, but the convening authority overturned the conviction with no explanation. He was returned to full active duty.

Currently, Rep. Speier has a bill working its way through the house that would change the UCMJ to remove some of the power of the convening authority, but it has little chance at passing.

The Aftermath

While society often thinks of men, and military men in particular, as "tough guys," when a man is sexually assaulted, he is left to suffer with the same emotions that a woman does, and more.

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"When a man is assaulted," Zaleski said, "often people who have not had to confront sexual assault ask victim blaming questions and make assertions like, 'Why didn't you fight them off?' or 'A man can't be raped, you must have wanted it?'"

This leads to the aptly named "secondary victimization" which significantly affects how men cope with trauma.

Currently, the DoD says they offer assistance to rape victims through their "Safe Helpline," which is available 24/7, and insist that the people who respond are trained to assist men as well as women. Cynthia O. Smith, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told NBC the DoD has reached out to organizations that help male victims, but Lewis is skeptical. While he says that he welcomes the effort, he wants to know what organizations the Pentagon is reaching out to, as there are none specifically for male survivors.


Image source: Stuart Monk / Shutterstock.com

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