Far more military men are being raped by other men and experience other sexual traumas than is reported by the Pentagon because of the stigma attached to such assaults, says a new study released Tuesday by the American Psychological Association.
“Rates of military sexual trauma among men who served in the military may be as much as 15 times higher than has been previously reported, largely because of barriers associated with stigma, beliefs in myths about male rape, and feelings of helplessness,” the APA said in releasing findings published in its periodical Psychological Services.
If the survey of male combat veterans is accurate, it could mean the U.S. armed forces are dealing with an epidemic of male-on-male sex crimes.
Comparing the new study’s numbers and the Pentagon’s survey results produced some shocking statistics.
The Rand Corp., which conducted the most recent Pentagon sexual assault survey in 2014, found that about 12,000 men reported being assaulted. Sexual assault in the military is defined as unwanted sexual contact, including rape and other assaults or the attempt to commit those acts.
Of the 12,000 male victims, 3,850 reported “penetrative” attacks — meaning they were raped.
Extrapolating the study’s estimates of up to 15 times greater than the Pentagon’s count, it would mean that as many as 180,000 men are assaulted in one year and, of those, 57,750 are “penetrative” attacks.
The scholarly survey refers to “male sexual trauma,” which translated to this survey question response: “I was sexually assaulted while serving in the military.”
“That was the question. It was quite literally it,” Sean Sheppard, a psychologist and research fellow at the University of Utah who led the study, told The Washington Times.
Mr. Sheppard said researchers used a random response technique that allowed them to extract more accurate data from a sample of 180 male combat veterans. From that technique, they derived the 15-times rate compared with anonymous surveys such as the Pentagon’s.
He said the military should “consider the fact that stigma and other biases potentially leads to underreporting and to utilize techniques like the randomized response technique to try to determine more accurate base rates. It would be a tool in addition to what the Pentagon is doing.”
Does the survey mean that the 3,850 male military rape victims count is actually nearly 60,000?
“In the research that we conducted, broadly speaking, the rates of sexual assault are significantly higher,” Mr. Sheppard said. “I couldn’t tell you whether that is due to rape or not, but you can make that hypothesis.”
The study said: “Data from this study, although preliminary, suggest that published rates of male MST [military sexual trauma] may substantially underestimate the true rate of the problem. Current work is underway to replicate these findings and expand the scope of this research by assessing a broader range of behaviors that comprise sexual assault.”
The Defense Department issues a biannual report on sexual assaults. Based on Internet emailed surveys, Rand found that more men than women, in pure numbers, are sexual assault victims. Women make up about 14.5 percent of the 1.3 million active-duty force.
“We know that there is underreporting among men and women, and hope that this special issue will help to bring awareness and treatment for those that serve and protect us,” said the periodical’s co-editor, Michi Fu, a clinical practitioner. “I personally wanted to pull together scholarship after hearing of reports of military sexual trauma being so much more prevalent than in the general population.”
Researchers said that even though the Pentagon-sponsored survey is anonymous, men still are reluctant to disclose that they were raped.
The rapes and other assaults come at a cost to the men and the nation, according to a survey of 2,042 veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, says another study in Psychological Services.
“Male veterans who reported being sexually assaulted while serving their country suffered more severe symptoms of PTSD and depression, had higher rates of suicidal thoughts and were more likely to enroll in outpatient mental health treatment than those who were not assaulted,” the researchers found.
Elaine Donnelly, who runs the Center for Military Readiness, said male-on-male sexual assaults have been increasing since Congress repealed the gay ban in 1993 and replaced it with “don’t ask, don’t tell,” which was erased by President Obama to allow openly gay service members.
“DoD figures have shown that most sexual assaults on men are perpetrated by other men, not women,” she said.