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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter September 4, 2013

Military sexual trauma as a determinant in the development of mental and physical illness in male and female veterans

  • Betsy S. O’Brien EMAIL logo and Leo Sher


Background: Military Sexual Trauma (MST) is defined as sexual harassment and or sexual assault experienced by a military service member. It is much more widespread and common than reported. It is associated with pre-combat traumatic experiences and pathologic sequelae including mental and medical illness.

Methods: An electronic search of the major behavioral science databases was conducted to retrieve studies detailing the social, epidemiological and clinical characteristics of MST and its relationship to psychiatric and medical illness.

Results: Studies indicate that military sexual trauma is related to an increase in psychiatric pathology, including posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), substance abuse and dependence, depression, anxiety, eating disorders and suicidal behavior. MST is also related to an increase in medical illness, primarily pain-related symptoms involving multiple organ systems, including gastrointestinal, neurological, genitourinary and musculoskeletal.

Conclusion: MST is associated with an increased prevalence of mental and physical illness. Although there are some gender differences in the reported rates of MST and there may be some variables, such as prior traumatic experiences, that may make an individual more vulnerable to the psychiatric and medical sequela of MST, it is clear that MST is a major healthcare issue that affects both sexes and warrants further attention and an increase in clinical resources devoted to it. Some preventive measures for decreasing the prevalence of MST may include increasing education and legal prosecution of perpetrators in the military, and increasing access to mental health services for individuals who have suffered from MST.

Corresponding author: Betsy S. O’Brien, MD, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry, Box 1230, One Gustave L. Levy Place, New York, NY 10029, USA


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Received: 2012-8-25
Accepted: 2012-10-4
Published Online: 2013-09-04
Published in Print: 2013-09-01

©2013 by Walter de Gruyter Berlin Boston

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