The Corner

Military-Sexual-Trauma Syndrome

So now there’s a name and, inevitably, an acronym for it: military-sexual-trauma syndrome or MST. Military-sexual-trauma syndrome is that debilitating condition that befalls female service members who have allegedly been the victim of sexual assault by their fellow service members. According to the New York Times, female veterans are becoming homeless and involved in street life because of the post-traumatic stress that results from having been victimized in a military “that failed to protect them.” 

Tiffany Jackson is the Times’ lead example. She says that she was savagely raped in the ladies room of a bar in South Korea by a fellow serviceman. She held a job “fleetingly” after leaving the military, but

Two years later, she had descended into anger and alcohol and left her job. She started hanging out with people who were using cocaine and became an addict herself, huddling against the wind on Skid Row here. . . . She grew up in a tough section of Compton, Calif., and served as a heavy equipment operator in the Army, exhilarated by her sense of mastery in a male-dominated environment. But after the rape — which she kept to herself, not even telling her family — her behavior changed. She assaulted a sergeant, resulting in disciplinary actions. Back home, she lost her job in sales after she passed out, drunk, during a business phone call. “It looked like I really had my stuff together,” she said. “But I was dying inside.”

She served three years in prison for drug dealing and finally confided in a prison psychiatrist, who helped her see that many of her bad decisions had been rooted in the sexual trauma.

Ms. Jackson now is on full disability compensation for her MST, though she was at first denied benefits. 

A non-profit organization has teamed up with the Veterans Administration to create a support group for female vets with MST: 

[The support group] incorporates psychotherapy, journal writing and yoga . . . Each class of a dozen women lives together for 12 weeks while spending eight-hour days at a women’s mental health clinic, “where you can cry and not have to encounter a bunch of men with your mascara running,” as [director] Katz put it.

One of its graduates, “Cindi, an officer in the Air Force with a master’s degree, said she had been bullied and ostracized by a female superior. After leaving the military, she had tumbled into a violent marriage and did not want her last name used for her own safety. She had been couch-surfing for a while. She grew up in a household brimming with neglect. In her workbook, Cindi drew an image of water boiling on a stove, representing her traumas, more powerful than her self-regard.”#more#

Now here is a tentative alternative hypothesis: Some of these women come from environments that made their descent into street life overdetermined, whether or not they experienced alleged sexual assault in the military. To blame alleged sexual assault for their fate rather than their own bad decision-making is ideologically satisfying, but mystifying. Having children out of wedlock, as a huge proportion of them do, also does not help in avoiding poverty and homelessness:  

Monica Figueroa, 22, a former Army parachutist, lived in a family member’s auto body shop in the Los Angeles area, bathing her baby, Alexander, in a sink used for oil and solvents until, with help, they found temporary housing.

Michelle Mathis, 30, a single mother of three, has bounced among seven temporary places since returning home in 2005 with a traumatic brain injury. Ms. Mathis, who served as a chemical specialist in Iraq, relies on a GPS device to help her remember the way to the grocery store and her children’s school.

Feminists claim (speciously) that a whopping one-quarter of college co-eds are sexually assaulted by their fellow students in college; I am not aware of comparable claims that huge numbers of female college graduates are as a result ending up on the street. (The difference between the outcomes for college graduates and vets does not lie in the relative availability of services: College rape crisis centers and hotlines are barely used.) I am not even aware of claims that victims of stranger rape are more likely to end up dealing drugs and homeless, but that evidence may in fact be out there. (I recently wrote about a tough-as-nails, pro-police building superintendent in the Bronx who was raped three times, including by her mother’s boyfriend as a child; she is only one case, obviously, but she was not on disability benefits or on the streets.)  

But let’s say that for these homeless female vets, it really was their sexual experiences in the military that caused their downward spiral into, as the Times puts it, “alcohol and substance abuse, depression and domestic violence.” Why then have those same feminists who are now lamenting the life-destroying effects of “MST” insisted on putting women into combat units? Arguably, coming under enemy fire or falling into enemy hands is as traumatic as the behavior one may experience while binge-drinking with one’s fellow soldiers or as scarring as being “bullied and ostracized” by a female superior. Are women on average going to be more able to emotionally handle the former than the latter? Isn’t there a contradiction in expecting the military to “protect” you while it also sends you out to face mortal risk? And do the feminists believe that there will be fewer of these alleged rapes in combat training and duty? Perhaps they think that with enough multi-million-dollar gender-equity training contracts showered on the gender-industrial complex, the problem will go away. Or perhaps they think that keeping before us proof that the patriarchy is alive and well is more important than protecting women from “MST,” especially if that image can serve as grounds for remaking the military.   

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