MILITARY SEXUAL TRAUMA 16
APHENOMENOLOGICAL STUDY OF THE LIVED EXPERIENCE OFMILITARY, RETIREES, AND VETERANS WOMEN LIVING WITH THE EFFECTS OFSEXUAL TRAUMA
Background of the Problem 3
Statistics of the Problem 4
Problem on the part of the government and military administrative organs 5
Health Issues 9
Comparison to Situation in Civilian Settings 10
APhenomenological Study of the Lived Experience ofMilitary, Retirees, and Veterans Women Living with the Effects ofSexual Trauma
Backgroundof the ProblemIntroduction
Accordingto its nature, culture and systems of operation, the military can bewell described as Total Institution- one that has an enclosed andisolated social system. The purpose of making the military systems tobe like that is to ensure effective and efficient management, controland direction of the people serving in the armed forces in a directmanner. Over there years, however, there have been increasingconcerns about sexual trauma in the military all around the world,and the United States is not an exception. Theword Military Sexual Trauma (MST) refers toexperiences of sexual assault and or sexual harassment by militarypersonnel (Allard et al., 2011). The Department of Veterans Affairsobserves MST as sexual assaults and sexual harassment experiences ofpeople during times of military service (Eftekhari et al., 2013).O`Brien and Sher (2013), report that MST remains an issue withsignificant prevalence but little reporting in administrative andpublic spheres. In particular, the iniquity of MST has a substantialnumber of women on the receiving end of the adverse effects it causeson people’s lives. It is also important to note that the culture inthe military is not only hierarchical but also masculine at the sametime. Ithasbrought about systemic discrimination, exploitation, and orsubordination of women, which is highly responsible for thecontinuance of occurrence of MST in the military. There is also asense of gender inequality regarding leadership in the military.Turchik, & Wilson (2011), indicate that victimization of femalesoldiersaboutsexual abuse continues to orchestrateat high levels within the United States Military. An associatedmatter of great concern is that reports of MST often remained ignoredand downplayed by stakeholders in the government, local communitiesand within the military. Focus is instead placed on other stressorsof warzoneareas like witnessing of combat, death and or injury as well asseparation from family or loved ones (Gates et al., 2011).
Statisticsof the Problem
Researchshows that reports of MST in the military have increased byapproximately 88% between the years 2007 and 2013, from 2,688 casesto 5,066 cases respectively (DOD, 2011, 2014). An inner lookindicates that the situation is even more alarming since the DOD(2013) bears the opinion that only 15% of the cases are ever reportedwhile the rest are not. Fromthis understanding, an individual might be inclined tobelieve statics offered by peer reviewed research as opposed to thedisclosures of the DOD since it isunderstandablethat the military always aims to constrain relaying of internalinformation to the public.
Indeed,peer-reviewed articles indicate that the number of women sufferingfrom MST intothe armyis much greater than that which is specified by the DOD. In examiningthe matter of MST by use of a holistic approach, all forms of sexualharassment and assault areinto consideration,Turchik and Wilson (2011), report that up to 84% of women that havebeen in military service wereexposedto the experience at some point during their employment. Afterlooking into the separate branches of the United States army, andconsidering information of the year 2012,the Military had the most sexual assault reports at the rate of 2.3for a group of a thousand service members. The Marine Corps reportedthe lowest incidents of sexual assaults at the rate of 1.7 for agroup of a thousand service members (DOD, 2013). Such informationonly reveals that occurrences of MST are prevalent in all branches ofthe armed forces of the United States.
Bell,Turchik, and Karpenko (2014), however, ensure to note that statisticsrelating to MST in the military may differ significantly from studyto study owing to methodological and assessment differences in theconduction of research. Again, one cannot decline to note thatendeavors of measuring and evaluating issues of the subject matterpose a challenge per se due to the sensitive nature of the subject,especially in the context of the military (Groves, 2013).
Problemon the part of the government and military administrative organs
Itis terrible to note that the country administrationand its involved agencies like the Department of Defense (DOD) aredoing little to curb the adverseeffects of MST among military personnel (Burgess, Slattery &Herlihy, 2013). It emerges that the government ought to implementstringent mechanisms of dealing with the problem of MST. A look athistory on the subject matter shows that sexual assault against womenremains a common concernin that a female member of the United States military is more likelyto be a victim of the attackthat she is likely to be killed in action by enemy fire (Burns etal., 2014). Additionally, the DOD hardly offers guidance ordirectives for the implementation of sexual assault policies in areasof deployment of the United States military. What is more devastatingis that the DOD has engaged in actions of waiving informationregarding criminal and violent acts of sexual harassment and assaultagainst female members ofthe military.The predisposition of the DOD regarding MST points towards theexistence of misdiagnoses in the cases that arereported(Stander, & Thomsen, 2016). Indeed, many people render most womenthat leave the job as ineligible for service owing to issues likepersonality and adjustment disorders, over and above the most commonaspect of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) (Mattocks et al.,2012 Scott et al., 2014).
Withoutany doubt, women aged between 30 and 50 years areagroupof people that are most affected by MST (Mattocks et al., 2012). Itis a matter of great concern considering that more and more women areforming an increasing portion of the veteran population in the UnitedStates. Even so, it is important to note that the issue of MST is notonly a matter of great concern to female veterans and retirees alonebut also to women in the larger military population (Nichols, 2015).
Themost vulnerable persons, however, are those with some forms ofdisability (Klingensmith, et al., 2014). Still, one cannot decline tonote that the number of female members thatredeployedremains very low. Despite this fact, much is unknown about thelong-term mental and even physical needs of veteran women that havesuffered from MST implying a sense of disregard of interest by thegovernment to facilitate research procedures on the subject (Turchiket al., 2012). Otherresearchers have expanded on asignificant number of male soldiers that werepreviously accusedof sexual assault and or harassment were discharged honorably frommilitary service, with no mention of convictions on their records(Kimerling et al., 2011). One cannot decline to note that thissituation represents a serious problem within the nation’s armedforces system. Itis worrying aspect thatmost women that make reports of sexual assaults or harassment get toleave military service before the end of their employment contracts(Nichols, 2015). Such hints that the prevailing culture of themilitary discourages reporting of such cases.
Thesituation under-recognition of the issue has characterized the natureof military organs not only in the United States but also around theworld for a very long time. Even so, there is a need for insight intothe causes of such under-recognition, which has been in existencesinceantiquity.Some studies purport that women in the military do not reportoccurrences of MST simply because they are uncomfortable orembarrassed by revealing information regarding assault against themor they strive to do away with memories of such incidentsin their lives (Bell, Turchik, & Karpenko, 2014). Such only leadsto the continuance of badhandling of assault and harassment cases within the military- asituation that encourages prevalence of instances of rape. In someother cases, women that report rape cases facethe accusationof committing the vice of adultery. Such has great potential ofaffecting their lives in an adverse manner.
Also,there is a likelihood of little support from colleagues, especiallywhen the military members get deployedto a combat zone, in that filing of assault and harassment reportswill serve to disrupt team operations. Some believe that such storiesbring about divisiveness and demoralization to members of a givenunit, some team members may find it hard to believe a female teammatethat is accusing a respected team leader of assault or harassment.Other than failing to acceptthe testimony of an accuser, other team members are likely not tosupport the woman and even indicate that they have disbelief in thereport since they find it expedient and may desire to maintain goodterms with the accused (Kelly et al., 2011). Research indicates thatMST victims that report cases and are disbelieved or forced towithdraw suffer from severe depression and other forms of mentalchallenges like PTSD even as they continue to serve in environmentswith a lack of or little emotional assistance (Katz et al., 2012).
Eventhough there may be some level of truth in such suggestions, theyhardly address the weight of the subject matter from the perspectiveof astandardobserver. Over time, many governments and military organs around theworld have shown a sense of reluctance in ensuring there are minimalrestrictive barriers to mechanisms of addressing issues of MST(Nichols, 2015). For instance, in the United States, militarypersonnel have to deal with involving administrative hurdles andpolicies when it comes to reporting MST. They have to engage ininvolving surveys and filling of meticulous questionnaires whilefostering the perception that their efforts of reporting will notlead to any meaningful change of policy or gain of interest by theadministrative organs (Groves, 2013). Clearly, the reporting systemis aprimarycontributing factor to underreporting and ineffective law enforcementagainst offenders. A further look into the system shows that it istwo-tiered in nature. There is the tier whereby a victim can file arestricted report anonymously and then be eligible to receivecounseling as well as medical care without the prosecutionof the perpetrator. Then there is the tier of reporting where thevictim of assault and or harassment opts to prosecute the offenderin this tier, the details of the report are not anonymous. Eventhough this two-tier system may serve to increase numbers of personsseeking medical care or treatment, it does not serve the purpose ofensuring justice is well served or achievement of prevention of MSTcomesto passin the military.
Insome way, the generalmilitary philosophies characterized by the need for loyalty anddiscipline establish atmospheres that discourage reporting of MSTover and above publicperceptions that members can be harassed or assaulted at any time.The resultant effect is that a good number of affected members do notenjoy job satisfaction and would rather leave the service wheneveranother opportunity of employment presents itself (Groves, 2013).
Theidea that members of the military become optimistic if not merelyready and willing to capture any future opportunities for employmentin the private security sector also implies that there is lesslikelihood for reporting of MST. In fact, and in most cases, womenthat have suffered MST do not have direct options of quitting theirjobs. They are even likely to endure difficulties of continuing towork with persons that have assaulted or harassed them whiledemonstrating respect, obedience and loyalty to them at the sametime. An interior look atthe situation also shows that such is not only depressing andstressful but leaves the women at more risk of continuedvictimization in future times.
Scott,Pietrzak, and SM Southwick 2011are adamant that the issue of MST is a major public health problemwith the potential of adverse effects on female members of themilitary. Acareful look at the conditions on the groundshows MST occurrence associatedwith health issues of the psychology of persons in a grave manner.Mattersof post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) stand out as oneofthe most prominent psychological health challenges.Further analysis shows that sexual harassment and assault isseparableregardingtheir prediction capabilities of health challenges.
Cater& Leach (2011), indicate that sexual harassment does not pose asignificant PTSD predictor in cases where warfare stressors areabsent. Itimpliesthat combatstressors have potential of posing as mediators between healthchallenges (mostly PTSD) and sexual harassment. Nonetheless, sexualassault remains asignificantand weighty predictor of health problemsand in particular, PTSD even in cases where warfare stressors areabsent or controlled in attackedindividual.
Itis worth noting that a majordistressing issue among the women is that their attackers or enemiesof their wellbeing are team members on the same side with them.Without any doubt, MST poses as a determining factor for thedevelopment of not only psychological health challenges but alsophysical illnesses among existent and former members of the military. In as much as most male veterans and retirees have PTSD owing toissues related to exposure to combat most women suffer from the sameas a result of sexual trauma (Cater & Leach, 2011). In some ways,the governing bodies of the military focus on the stressorsassociated with combat since most cases of MST remain unreported(Boyd, Bradshaw, & Robinson, 2013). A matter of far-reachingconcern is that members of the military hardly make any formalreports concerning MST- a trend that even more propagates developmentof worrying health issues. Again, a good number of reports made byfemales areusually let outbefore any meaningful correctional, or disciplinary action takesplace (Allardet al., 2011).
Still,it is important to remember that research shows that general exposureto the everydaystressors of war zones also result in some health challenges thatassociate with the disordered function of musculoskeletal, arterial,and, gastrointestinal systems in people (Burgess, Slattery, &Herlihy, 2013). Overall, however, victims of MST have tendencies ofsuffering from comorbid psychiatric illnesses like liver andpulmonary diseases in addition to the PTSDabove.
Otherconditionsthat the people risk suffering from include but are not limited todifferent forms of heart diseases, cancer, respiratory andcardiovascular diseases on top of chronicpains on the differentpart of the body like the head and back. Nevertheless, MST bearscorrelation with Axis I diagnoses and use of prescription drugs formental challenges. Likewise,MST associates with the developmentof depression by a person. Such instances of depression are alsoescalated by substance abuse, more specifically, alcohol abuse. Thereality is that a good number of MST victims that suffer from alcoholand substance abuse had no such challenge before experiences ofsexual harassment and or assault it only developed as an aftereffect (Burgess, Slattery, & Herlihy, 2013). What is more is thatsuch forms of drug addiction have a connection with the developmentof PTSD. From another perspective, the frequentuse of alcohol and other recreational drugs among military personnelpose as a risk factor for the propagationof MST.
Comparisonto Situation in Civilian Settings
Alook at how the situation of the subject matter compares withcontexts of the civilian society shows that a relatively highpercentage of women in the military are vulnerable to MST. Accordingto Allard et al., (2011), female veterans are exposed to much moreprevalence of rape in comparison to civilian women.
Itis also worth mentioning that womenin the military are more likely to be victims of additional forms oftrauma other than MST, with the most common being sexual abuse asfull-grown civilians in the society. From another perspective, beingmilitary personnel does not imply a sense of less exposure tointimate partner violence. In fact and in cases of female members ofthe armed forces that havecivilian spouses, the women bear more risk of harassment and orassault from their husbands.All the same, and within the context of the military, sexualharassment,and aggressionappear to be two subjects that are very much more intertwined ascompared to the situation in unilateral civilian settings (Stander &Thomsen, 2016). Because of this intertwinement, it is easy formilitary administrative organs to downplay the reality of some severecases of assault on women, giving them concern that relates to thoseof mild instances of harassment in the civilian context. It isunfortunate that the military does not make use of the exceptionalopportunity it has of studying and evaluating the connection betweensexual harassment and rapeas clearmanifestations of sexual violence.
Insummary, it is important to note that there are limited platforms forcommunity support and care for individuals (women) that have sufferedfrom MST after they are discharged and resume mundanelife as civilians (Pavao et al.,2013). Such is responsible for development or manifestation of someforms of Antisocial Behaviors (ASB) such as eating disorders andimpulsive behavior patterns among others (Kearney et al., 2012). Thepeople suffering from MST engage in such conduct as coping mechanismsto help them get by with their day-to-day routines of life. It isvery likely to find them living isolated lives, with little or nointerest in engagement in publicor social activities in the context of the community. When it comesto substance and or alcohol abuse, use of prescription drugs andeating disorders, the people often exercise impulsive behavior ofactions like reckless spending, binging and purging. Similarly,the people often end up with challenges like smoking, obesity,suicidal thoughts, sexual promiscuity and sedentary lifestyles amongothers (Pavao et al.,2013). Forthis reason, it is imperative for membersof the communityand primarily the family members or relatives of the distressedpeople to help them in the recovery process. Simple initiatives likethe establishmentof a friendly and accommodating home and publicenvironments can go a long way in facilitating the healing orrecovery processes. Indeed, criticalsocialization leads to engagement in appropriatesocial behavior that discourages undesirable social behaviors thatinvolve alcohol and substance abuse and eating disorders amongothers.
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