The title of this article is troubling in that it suggests perhaps military sexual trauma (“MST”) has not been taken seriously in the past. Defined by the government as “psychological trauma resulting 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, active duty for training, or inactive duty training,” MST is reported by both men and women, but predominantly this is a problem which affects our female soldiers. According to the statistics reported by The Atlantic, between 22 and 84 percent of women serving in our military have experienced some form of sexual harassment or assault during their service.
With 14% of our active duty military personnel now comprised of women, and estimates that women will represent 15% of our veteran population by 2035, this is a problem which needs attention – now. In addition to the obvious need for prevention, when MST does occur, there is a need to provide additional support in terms of treatment (if necessary and desired), as well as help with the often difficult adjustment back to civilian life. That adjustment period is often even more difficult for veterans with PTSD and/or MST, and some run afoul of the law, due in part to their military trauma.
In positive news, there are now 130 “veterans courts” in operation around the United States. An additional 30 such courts await approval from National Association of Drug Court Professionals. These courts, including the one described in Orange County, California in this article, provide veteran criminal offenders with a team of individuals with different skills in an effort to assist them return to a productive and successful civilian life. These teams may include VA representatives, social workers, lawyers, police officers, and sometimes former military personnel. For female veterans with MST in particular, the mentoring these court programs provide can be instrumental to their recovery and their ability to move their lives forward in a positive way.
Remarkably, the recidivism rates for veterans who “graduate” from the Orange County Community Court’s veterans court is only 10.5 percent – compared to California’s overall recidivism rate of 61 percent. That’s the kind of success rate we can all get behind.