Most survivors of rape in the military are men. Men also develop post-traumatic stress disorder from rape at almost twice the rate they do from combat, according to a sobering in-depth report published in GQ last month. The magazine's in-depth look jump started a long-overdue conversation about an issue the mainstream has long been slow to respond to. The problem? Historically, very few male survivors report their assault, muffling an already egregious epidemic.
That tradition of silence, however, may be slowly changing, thanks in large part to the tireless efforts of courageous survivors and advocates who are breaking down the institutionalized prejudices and macho mentalities that have for too long kept men specifically from coming forward with their assaults.
Brian Lewis didn't keep quiet. He is the first male survivor of military sexual trauma ever to testify before Congress and is the current president of Men Recovering from Military Sexual Trauma.
Lewis told Mic via email that the stigma around reporting rape comes from the strong pack mentality in the military.
"Outing a shipmate is tantamount to treason," Lewis wrote. "Handling these things in-house 'on the deck plate' so to speak is the preferred way, and violating this unwritten code can still result in negative unofficial consequences." For Lewis, this included being ostracized by his command, being assigned duties below his rank and losing his entire support network.
That stigma is hurting a staggering number of survivors. According to the 2013 Department of Defence and Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office Annual Report on Sexual Assault, about 54% of MST victims last year were men. (It is worth noting that while there were more male survivors overall, women were almost six times more likely to be sexually assaulted). That amounts to about 14,000 male victims, a staggering number, though most of us are in the dark about the scope of this problem: An estimated 81% of MST survivors never disclose their assault.
A culture that prizes stoicism in men and often doesn't believe that a man can be a victim of rape can shut down the average civilian male survivor of sexual assault needing help. In the military, couple that with an intense stigma against reporting sexual assault, along with a lack of useful resources and strictly enforced stereotypes about masculinity — all of which make it even more daunting for male survivors to seek the justice and support they need to recover.
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Being a victim contradicts stereotypes about masculinity that men have internalized since childhood.
Servicemen who report their trauma through official channels not only face retaliation for speaking out among their fellows, they also may become subject to official consequences of disclosure. A superior officer told Lewis not to report his assault to the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Lewis was later discharged for having "a personality disorder," even though a psychiatrist on the naval base in Guam had concluded that Lewis suffered PTSD as a result of a sexual assault.
Unfortunately, the military has a history of discharging servicemen for personality disorders (31,000 from 2001 to 2010), allegedly to avoid the cost of treating PTSD or traumatic brain injuries. Many of these discharges may have simply been a way of removing MST survivors from the ranks.
Even when the military listens to male MST survivors, resources are slim.
"Asking male survivors to report the crime and then not having adequate resources to assist them in beginning recovery is detrimental at best to creating a conducive environment for reporting," said Lewis. "Why would a male survivor want to report if he is simply going to be told, 'Take these pills and there's not much else I can do for you'?"
There are clearly systemic problems with the way the military handles male MST, but more aggressive change may not come until more people realize how bad the problem is.
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Chris Anderson, executive director of MaleSurvivor, has some ideas about how male MST survivors might feel more comfortable disclosing.
"First, I think there needs to be a lot more of a focus on getting the message out throughout all areas of our society that males are victimized and abused in vastly greater numbers than people have ever realized," he told Mic via email.
"Second, there need to be more men who come forward and talk about their experiences of being abused, and more importantly, how they suffered as a result of being abused, and how they have moved forward in their lives."
If one of the biggest barriers male MST survivors face is public ignorance, let's break down that ignorance with some facts.
Men can be raped. Men in the military can and do get raped by the thousands every year. Survivors of rape typically suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression and other mental health challenges after their assault. Surviving sexual assault and suffering from it does not make a man less of a man.
Simply recognizing these statements as fact helps both male survivors and those around them.
Resources for male survivors of sexual assault: