The number of sexual assaults on men in the U.S. military is higher than people would think. The DOD estimates that as many as 10,500 men and approximately 8,500 women in the military experience unwanted sexual contact each year. But according to the Pentagon, only 14% of the sexual assaults reported by service members last year involved male victims.
The fact of the matter is that sexual assaults involving male victims often go unreported. Male victims, especially those in the military, are usually too afraid to be seen as victims. There is also the fear of humiliation and appearing to be weak, vulnerable, or homosexual. This stigma is intensified in the military, where men are supposed to be strong, masculine and capable of not only defending themselves, but sticking up for others as well.
But what sexual assault victims need to realize is that sexual assault is more about power and control than sex, and usually has little to do with homosexual behavior. Aggressors almost always identify themselves as heterosexual, sometimes even ultra-masculine.
Over the past several years, the DOD and its service branches have increased efforts to reach out to male victims, urging them to report sexual assaults. The campaigns encourage service members to intervene in potential in any and all assault situations, not just the ones where the victims are women. Service members are also urged to report any assault, including ones prior to their enlistment, or ones that involve civilian assailants, so that the victims can receive treatment and officials can go after perpetrators.
The services have already started assembling training materials aimed at male victims, including videos with scenarios of service members drinking, and discussions about when to intervene. Military leaders are learning that they should tailor their approaches differently for men and women, in order to effectively reach individuals.
Despite the poor reporting numbers, the Pentagon’s initiative is having an effect. Although the reporting numbers are still low, the number of reports of sexual assault among male sailors and marines tripled this year, from the year before.
Service members who have experienced sexual assault should not be afraid to come forward. They need to be reminded that they were victims and the person who perpetuated the assault is the one to blame, and must be stopped, before they repeat the deplorable behavior with another victim.
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Military Connection: Why Report Sexual Assaults? By Debbie Gregory