Sexual Assault In The Military: It’s Not Just A Woman’s Issue

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Sexual Assault In The Military: It’s Not Just A Woman’s Issue

by Jillian Bullock

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In my upcoming movie, A Sense of Purpose: Fighting For Our Lives, as the screenwriter and director, I wanted to highlight military sexual assault not just from a woman’s perspective, but from a man’s as well. Mike Beason, a veteran and sexual assault survivor, is one of the men featured in the movie, who shares his story of how he was raped as a young man when he was stationed at his first command post in Korea. As a result of suffering such a traumatic incident, he developed post-traumatic stress disorder and today he is classified as 100% disabled. Mike’s story is not unusual but it is not heard often even though it is an epidemic that plagues the U.S. military in all branches.

The reality is more men are sexually assaulted or raped each year in the military than women are. The sobering facts are this - approximately, 10,800 men are sexually assaulted every year in the military compared to roughly 8,000 women.  Women report sexual assault about 40 percent of the time and 13 percent for men.

“It’s easy for some people to single out women and say: ‘There’s a small percentage of the force having this problem,’ ” said First Lt. Adam Cohen, who said he was raped by a superior officer. “No one wants to admit this problem affects everyone. Both genders, of all ranks. It’s a cultural problem.”


Just like with females, the number of sexual violence is actually higher because most men will not report their attack. Men must deal with the stigma attached to being a rape victim. They are often perceived as weak because rape doesn’t happen to “real men.” They have a fear of being ostracized. They don’t feel they will be believed or get the support they need. Of course, they must deal with the shame of being raped and often don’t tell anyone, especially not their friends or family.

The Pentagon says that 53 percent of sexual attacks on men are mostly done by other men. With 1,197,000 total enlisted men in the U.S. Armed Forces, approximately 1 to 2 percent are said to have experienced a sexual assault. Eighty-one percent will never report it.

After such an attack men often become confused about their sexuality. If he is a gay man, he may feel he was raped out of punishment for being gay. If he is heterosexual, he may wonder if he is now gay especially if he became aroused during the assault.  

Once discarded from the military sexual assault victims often have a difficult time maintaining a healthy relationship. They often have flashbacks of the attack, which causes nightmares, panic attacks, anger, fear, loneliness, and hatred toward self. These overwhelming emotions often leads victims to become depressed, have suicidal thoughts or abuse alcohol or drugs. This leads to military sexual trauma and post-traumatic stress disorder.

"The stigma associated with being a man who is sexually assaulted remains so powerful and so pervasive that it is, without doubt, the biggest obstacle that male survivors contend with," David Lisak, a forensic consultant and board chair of 1in6, a support and recovery organization, told Mic via email.

To report an occurrence of sexual assault or rape, many men or women in the military face backlash and retaliation in the form of professional and social punishment, death threats, shunned by other military members in their unit, or forced discharge for a variety of reasons, mainly having some form of mental issue, e.g. Personality Disorder, even when they don’t. 


The U.S. military has several problems when it comes to doing what needs to happen in order to help significantly lower incidents of sexual assault in the Armed Forces.

Until 2004, the military rape law applied only to female victims and male perpetrators. There were no guidelines for when a male rapes another male or when a female rapes a male or when a female rapes another female.  The Department of Defense created Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Office (SAPRO), which they stated: “serves as the single point of authority for program accountability and oversight, in order to enable military readiness and reduce -- with a goal to eliminate -- sexual assault from the military.” Since that time, SAPRO have done very little to lower or eliminate violent sexual crimes in the military.

"Asking male survivors to report the crime and then not having adequate resources to assist them in beginning recovery is detrimental at best to creating a conducive environment for reporting," said Brian Lewis, a sexual assault survivor and president of Men Recovering from Military Sexual Trauma. "Why would a male survivor want to report if he is simply going to be told, 'Take these pills and there's not much else I can do for you'?" 

The Pentagon stated that recently there have been an increase in the number of men and women who are reporting incidents of rape or sexual assault. To see this increase means servicemen and women are "growing more comfortable in the system." The increase that is being referred to: In 2012 approximately 26,000 women and men were sexually assaulted and 3,374 cases were reported. In 2013, a new Pentagon report found that 5,061 troops reported cases of assault.

Also the Department of Defense (DOD) now requires all branches of the service to conduct monthly meetings in order to track and record all reported sexual assault or rape cases and submit those allegations to the proper channel to be reviewed and investigated.

There’s only one problem with what the DOD is doing. None of it is working because rarely do these investigations lead to justice.


Since the military handles any, and all, reported cases of sexual assault or rape, the leadership structure is the problem. The commanding officer has the power to stop an investigation, reduce a sentence or to overturn a conviction. This is especially problematic if the commanding officer is the offender or a buddy to the rapist.

Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.) has been on a constant mission for military sexual assault survivors. She introduced a bill to congress to remove sexual assault cases from the chain of command. Instead, the proposal seeks to have independent military lawyer handle cases and take the process out of commanders’ hands.

“The victims and survivors of sexual assault having been walking the halls of Congress for more than a year asking us to protect them,” Gillibrand told her colleagues. “It’s not about whether the members of Congress trust the chain of command. The people who do not trust the chain of command are the victims.”

Unfortunately, the bill needed 60 votes and it only garnished 55.  Gillibrand had hoped to continue her mission to get military sexual assault reform legislation passed, but she had been met with far too much opposition from military officials, the Senate and Congress. 

“I always hoped we could do the right thing here –- and deliver a military justice system that is free from bias and conflict of interest –- a military justice system that is worthy of the brave men and women who fight for us,” she said. “But today the Senate turned its back on a majority of its members.” 

Gillibrand believes that nothing will ever help victims of sexual assault or deter rape in the Armed Forces until Congress overhauls the military justice system.

Sexual Assault/Rape
RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network)

SafeHorizons National Sexual Assault Hotline

National Sexual Assault Hotline
800.656.HOPE | Free. Confidential. 24/7.