Military Sexual Assault Trauma is the term the VA is now using for those who have been sexually assaulted while serving in the military. I believe that MST would be under the rubric of “internalized oppression.” This is the kind of oppression that could also be directed toward those within one’s own group. Basically, any group that is targeted to be inferior to another, and grows up with this kind of message, may internalize this status, and attack others who are members of the same group. This also applies to women (perhaps a better way to define it is ‘those who with violence keep their boots on women’s necks.’)
So why the increase in Military Sexual Assault at this time? One very strong possibility comes to mind. Male soldiers, in the middle of combat, are playing out their own definition of what it means to be macho and to be masculine. Perhaps many of these macho men dressed in green or brown feel the stress and anxiety of having to keep up the front, wearing the mask, or wearing a helmet of defense mechanisms that keeps them from feeling any pain or suffering after killing soldiers and innocent civilians and children. These male warriors (the perpetrators) might be projecting their own fraudulent self-respect plus their need for power and control onto women and acting this out through MST; this is why this type of violence may be labeled as internalized oppression or internalized sexual violence (my term). Once a person takes another’s life, he or she will never be the same again. This doesn’t mean there are only negative consequences, because after the incident, it’s more about how we handle the trauma in order to integrate it into lives that are the crucial factor.
Ironically, both male and female soldiers are on the same team—the United States. They have fought a common enemy, have had some of the same injuries, as well as similar psychiatric symptoms. So the cause of the conflict between genders in the Armed Services is a kind of residual patriarchy or conditioned, habitual sexism and violence. In short, it’s winked at and given sanction; to remain silent is to commiserate with perpetrators. It’s the scenario of a long history and practice by the U.S. Military System which of course resists any call to change, in a major systemic way. There were debates, if you recall, when the Armed Services, the Defense Department, legislative leaders, etc. continued to decide whether women were really up to doing combat in the field. The controversy lasted for a long time, even as the discussion of the “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy around GBLTs self-disclosing their sexual preferences, and much of the stigma that was aroused in these discussions arose from bias, homophobia, traditional heterosexism, fear, ignorance and male pride of place.
Female soldiers have their own interior war inside the “military-industrial-technological-corporate” system, allies of the branches of the U.S. Military, so much so that a new name for a very old problem has been created by the Military; for women in the Armed Services who have been sexually assaulted, raped, or have the need for constant awareness that they may be threatened by demotion by a superior officer or Sargent;, if she or he reports anything about what happened to them at the hands of this superior, then most likely she’ll receive some kind of disciplinary action. This new illness is labeled: Military Sexual Assault Trauma (MST). Rape, more than anything is a crime of violence, so it may viewed as violence that has exploded out of masculine Machismo (falsely understood) that many males still adhere to and resist, turning from the social conditioning that they caught from the environment in which they grew up, as well as what they absorbed from many other sources.
The VA has defined MST as follows: “Psychological trauma, which in the judgment of a VA mental health professional, resulted from a physical assault of a sexual nature, battery of a sexual nature, or sexual harassment which occurred while the Veteran was serving on active duty or active duty for training. Sexual harassment is defined as “repeated, unsolicited verbal or physical contact of a sexual nature which is threatening in character.” (www.maketheconnection.net).
Just as corporal punishment perpetuates violence as a normative way to live, so male soldiers are perpetuating the same cultural myths, stereotypes, and in some case the corrupted values of their own social learning. I’m a Vietnam Era Vet, and I’m very disturbed about the “green” or “white” or “brown” wall of superiors in the various branches not really addressing this issue of Military Sexual Assault Trauma. I know that some have, but these strains of conditioned violence, towards children, women, “the enemy,” are very deep-seated and also may have a genetic component going back through previous generations. They have long range impact on all of us. The flip-hypocritical side of all of this is that the same ethics and freedoms we go to war over are egregiously carried out against sisters and brothers within the military ranks.
We can only change ourselves, but as we change we may affect the culture, in a healthy way, allied with others who feel the same way. Please think seriously about MST, and expressing how you feel about it with your elected officials, or get involved with other like-minded groups, who are raising consciousness around MST; support family and friends (females, but not to the exclusion of males); send emails to officials, and other advocacy groups, especially to those who are dedicated to political activism for women’s rights. Write a Letter to the Editor in your city’s newspaper or other alternative media sources (such as Democracy Now! (www.democracynow.org).
© Christopher Bear-Beam November 27, 2012